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Tough task ahead for three Thai taekwondo hopefuls

Pen-Ek Karaket trains intensively at a gymnasium in West Ham, England, in preparation for a tough first match against South Korean Lee Dae-hoon today.

Pen-Ek Karaket trains intensively at a gymnasium in West Ham, England, in preparation for a tough first match against South Korean Lee Dae-hoon today.

Thai taekwondo challengers face a daunting task in the preliminary rounds today.



Gold-medal prospect and third seed Pen-Ek Karaket confronts world champion and Asian Games winner Lee Dae-hoon of South Korea in the men's 58kg division at 5.15pm Bangkok time.

For the 22-year-old Kasetsart student, it will be a chance to avenge their Asian final encounter in May in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where Pen-Ek went down to the South Korean rookie superstar. The 20-year-old, 180cm-tall Lee, known for his turning kicks and reckless attacks, won the gold medal in the men's 63kg class at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and continued his stunning form by landing last year's World Championships on home soil, which shot him to the top of the global ranking for the sport.

Pen-Ek, who in comparison stands only 171cm tall, took the silver in the 2010 Asiad in addition to a silver at this year's Asian meet, but captured the gold at the WTF World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Seeing Pen-Ek's draw, national head coach Choi Yeong-seok from South Korea admitted that it's a difficult test for the Thai fighter.

"It will be a tough first match for Pen-Ek. Lee is almost 10cm taller than Pen-Ek and he will definitely use his height advantage to produce effective kicks. The Korean earlier beat Pen-Ek in May and will be confident to take him on again. However, if Pen-Ek is in top form and fights carefully with more concentration, I'm still upbeat that Lee is not unbeatable. A win in the first match will brighten Pen-Ek's chances of winning a medal in London," said Choi, who has been behind the significant successes enjoyed by Thai taekwondo in major competitions.

In the women's 49kg class, Thailand's Chanatip Sonkham, bronze medallist at the 2010 Asian meet and winner at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament, is due to take on European silver medallist Kristina Kim from Russia at 6pm Bangkok time.

A win for the 21-year-old from Phatthalung will set up an encounter against the winner between German Sumeyye Manz and second-seeded Taiwanese Yang Shu-Chun. Yang was champion at this year's Asian meet and silver medallist at last year's world meet in South Korea. However, Chinese Wu Jingyu remains the hot favourite for the title in this division. She is the reigning Olympic champion, gold medallist at the 2010 Asian meet and the 2007 world meet.

"Nong Lek [Chanatip's nickname] is young and fresh. There is no easy match in the Olympic Games. Therefore, no matter how tough it will be, I'm convinced Nong Lek can come up with a great performance. I think she still has a chance of making it to the later rounds," said Pimol Srivikorn, president of the Taekwondo Association of Thailand, who also joined the draw.

World champion Rangsiya Nisaisom, the other Thai taekwondo exponent, will challenge top-seeded Tseng Li-Cheng from Taiwan at 3pm Bangkok time tomorrow in the women's 57kg event. Tseng is a very strong contender for the London Games gold, having won the World Olympic Qualification Tournament and the 2010 Asian meet.




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