Medallists return to hero's welcome

Cash awards pour in for Olympians

Thailand's Olympic contingent returned home to a hero's welcome yesterday with boxing silver medallist Kaew Pongprayoon the main attraction.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra poses with Olympic medallists, from left, Chanatip Sonkham (bronze), Pimsiri Sirikaew (silver) and Kaew Pongprayoon (silver). PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Hundreds of people flocked to Suvarnabhumi airport to greet the last group of Thailand's London Olympians who included Kaew _ the Thai pepole's gold medallist _ and taekwondo bronze medallist Chanatip Sonkham.

Weightlifting silver winner Pimsiri Sirikaew, the kingdom's only other medallist at the 2012 Olympics, arrived home last week and joined the rest of the Olympic team at the airport yesterday.

"You are our gold medallist," several people shouted when they saw Kaew.

The 32-year-old lost to China's Zou Shiming in the 49kg final but a large number of Thais still believe he was robbed of a victory.

Kaew, from Kamphaeng Phet, hugged his father Kam and mother Mali when he met them.

"I love you most," Kaew told Mali.

"I missed you a lot. I don't have anything special for you today except love," replied Mali. "You did your best."

Kam added: "I also have love for you. When we arrive home, I will make som tam, grilled chicken and sticky rice for you."

Among those at the airport included bosses of several companies who gave the three Thai medal winners cash or a cheque as financial rewards for their success.

Several firms set a bonus scheme for gold, silver and bronze medallists. However, many of them rewarded Kaew as if he were a gold medallist as they joined the "Kaew was robbed" bandwagon.

A businessman was at the airport with 10 million baht in cash in his briefcase and deposited the money in Kaew's account at a bank there.

"You unanimously win Thais' hearts, so we give you a special prize," said an executive of another company who gave Kaew a one-million-baht cheque.

The Olympic squad then took part in a parade from Victory Monument to Siam Paragon shopping mall where the government's reception party was held.

The function, presided over by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was also for Thailand's participants at this years's Asian Beach Games in China.

Kaew and Pimsiri each received six million baht from the premier. Under the government's bonus programme for Olympians, a silver medallist gets the sum with three million baht in cash and the rest in monthly salary over five years.

Chanatip got a total of four million baht.

"I am glad to make Thais happy," Kaew told reporters. "I did my best and we should accept the result."

Kaew is expected to receive over 20 million baht in financial rewards from the government and private sector.

Yingluck thanked the participants of both tournaments and vowed that her administration would give its support for both sports for competition and for heatlh.

"You all got gold medals from all Thais," she said.

The Olympic medallists will appear in several TV programmes over the next few days _ or weeks.

Kaew's mother Mali is now also popular because of her boxing stunt while watching her son on TV. She appeared in a couple of TV shows yesterday before going to the airport.

Thailand won two silver and one bronze medals at the London Games _ their worst Olympic showing for 16 years.

It was the first time that the kingdom failed to win gold at the Olympics since boxer Somluck Kamsing won Thailand's first-ever Olympic top prize in 1996.

The taekwondo team is greeted by fans who line up along Rama I road in front of Siam Paragon shopping mall. NATTHITI AMPRIWAN

Weightlifting silver medallist Pimsiri Sirikaew shakes hands with a fan as the parade arrives at Siam Paragon. NATTHITI AMPRIWAN