Unsung Tawin provides silver lining
Thais bag taekwondomedals after dry spell
Thai taekwondo enjoyed its most successful Olympic campaign yesterday thanks to two teenagers.
While unsung Tawin Hanprab defied all odds to take the men's 58kg silver medal, pre-tournament favourite Panipak Wongpattanakit had to settle for a bronze in the women's 49kg class at the 2016 Rio Games.
Seeded 15th, Tawin, 18, lost to eighth seed Zhao Shuai of China 6-4, while Panipak, 19, claimed a 15-3 win over Itzel Adilene of Mexico in the bronze-medal match.
After a spate of excellent performances in weightlifting, which delivered two gold, one silver and one bronze medals, Thailand had suffered from some dismal results and medals had proved elusive.
It is the first time that Thailand have won more than one taekwondo medals in the Games and their overall tally now stands at five in the Korean martial art.
Tawin's name will go down in the Thai sports history books as the first fighter to win an Olympic medal in the men's taekwondo competition.
"It is like a dream come true -- I had never thought I would go this far," said Tawin from Pathum Thani.
"This win is for the Thais and especially for my parents who have always supported me. My next target is to win an Olympic gold medal."
Tawin upset two-time world champion and second seed Kim Tae-Hun of South Korea with a 12-10 score in his first bout before beating Safwan Khalil of Australia 11-9 in the last eight.
In the semi-finals, he took a 11-7 win over Luisito Pie of the Dominican Republic.
A first-year international relations student at Chulalongkorn University, Tawin said it was his victories over Kim and Khalil that boosted his confidence.
He added that he was relaxed while participating in his first senior-level competition and was convinced that all ranked contenders underestimated him, giving him the opportunities to fight according to his plan.
However, he said, the final against Zhao was a tough match.
"I admit that I lost in the final in a fair manner. My opponent was strong and had a physical advantage as well," he said.
"I injured my right ankle and left wrist in the first round but kept fighting for the sake of the Thai people and my family."
While Tawin performed better than expected, Panipak failed to live up to her potential, settling for a bronze in the women's 49kg class.
Panipak was picked ahead of Chanatip Sonkham, the 2012 London Games bronze medallist, because the Taekwondo Association of Thailand thought Panipak had a better chance of winning Thailand's first-ever taekwondo gold medal.
One of the pre-tournament title favourites, second-seeded Panipak lost in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Kim So-Hui of South Korea.
She fought back through repechage to take home the bronze after outclassing Itzel Adilene of Mexico 15-3 in the third-place play-off.
The fight was stopped midway through the third and final round after Panipak raced to a 12-point lead.
Tijana Bogdanovic of Serbia was the silver medallist and Azerbaijan's Patimat Abakarova was the other bronze winner in the category.
"It is a special medal for my dad and all the Thais," said Panipak, whose father was in the arena.
"My dad introduced me to the sport and has supported me all the way.
"He always cheers me up when I get discouraged. It is not a gold medal but I am happy with it."
The Surat Thani exponent, whose mother died of cancer when she was only seven, said she also asked her mom to help her from above.
"I kept uttering her name [Wanthana] quietly when I was on the stage, asking for her help."
The 2014 Youth Olympic gold medallist said contesting in front of huge crowds and cameras made her excited and she made some mistakes as well.
"I cried after losing in the quarter-finals but the coach told me to fight on.
"I am exhausted because of keeping my weight within the limit. My normal body weight is between 55-56kg."
Yaowapa Burapolchai won Thailand's first bronze in taekwondo at Athens 2004 and Buttree Puedpong took silver at Beijing 2008, followed by Chanatip's bronze at London 2012.
Thailand coach Choi Young-Seok praised Tawin for his splendid performance, saying the young Thai had a very tough fight because his Chinese opponent had many advantages physically.
He added that Panipak's lack of experience cost her the gold. "She should now start preparing for the next Olympic Games [in Tokyo in 2020] and she should stay in the 49kg class," said the Korean coach.