Thais aiming for 17 gold medal haul in Indonesia

Thais aiming for 17 gold medal haul in Indonesia

Kingdom expect sepak takraw stars to sweep four titles as other sports also raring to make contributions

A volunteer waits outside a venue as final preparations are made at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta on Friday. (AP photo)
A volunteer waits outside a venue as final preparations are made at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta on Friday. (AP photo)

There are 40 sports offering 462 gold medals and two demonstration events -- esports and canoe polo -- at the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia which officially begin on Saturday.

Thailand are sending 829 athletes to take part in all 42 disciplines and aim to bring home 17 gold medals.

The prediction was made by the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), which is responsible for preparing the country's athletes for the Asian Games, after gathering information from national sports associations concerned.

At Incheon 2014, Thailand claimed 12 golds and finished sixth overall behind China (151 golds), South Korea (79), Japan (47), Kazakhstan (28) and Iran (21).

The Thais claimed four golds in sepak takraw, two in cycling, and one each in sailing, golf, taekwondo, bowling, tennis and boxing.

At Jakarta Palembang 2018, Thailand are expected to grab four titles in sepak takraw, two each in sailing, canoeing and rowing, and one each in weightlifting, cycling, taekwondo, bowling, boxing, pencak silat and jet skiing.

Thailand have bagged 22 out of 33 Asian Games gold medals awarded in sepak takraw and have finished as the best nation in the Southeast Asian sport in each of the last five editions of the continental gathering.

Sepak takraw is again seen as Thailand's best hope for golds.

There are six events in the sport at the 2018 Asian Games but Thailand are allowed to take part in only four because of their dominance.

"We have to win all gold medals to preserve our reputation in sepak takraw," said Charouck Arirachakaran, president of the Takraw Association of Thailand.

Mighty lifters

Weightlifting is Thailand's most successful sport at the Olympics with five gold medals.

Surprisingly, the Kingdom have won only two golds in the sport at the Asian Games -- Chaiya Sukchinda in 1966 and Pawina Thongsuk in 2006.

The Thai weightlifting team have higher chances of winning golds in Indonesia with the absence of powerhouses China and Kazakhstan who have been banned for doping until later this year.

The Thai squad are led by 2016 Olympic champions Sopita Tanasan and Sukanya Srisurat.

Sinphet Kruaithong, who won a bronze in Rio to become the country's first ever male weightlifter to get an Olympic medal, and Thunya Sukcharoen, who captured a gold medal and two silvers at the 2017 world championships, could also go all the way.

While the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association (Tawa) is likely to end its title drought at the Asian Games, its chief adviser Intarat Yobangtoey does not want to put extra pressure on his athletes.

"It's true that we will have higher chances of winning gold medals without athletes from China and Kazakhstan," said Intarat.

"But it won't be easy because there are still a lot of strong athletes from several countries like Uzbekistan, Indonesia, North Korea and Taiwan."

Boxers' quest

The Thailand Boxing Association (TBA) hopes to bounce back from a string of disappointing results in international events.

Thailand's amateur boxing has been in a decline since the 2012 London Olympics where the country won only one silver in the sport.

It was the first time that Thailand failed to win an Olympic gold medal in the discipline since 1996 when boxer Somluck Kamsing became the Kingdom's first-ever Olympic champion.

It was worse four years later in Rio de Janeiro where Thailand failed to win a medal in the boxing ring for the first time since 1976 when Payao Poontarat became the country's first-ever Olympic medallist with a bronze in Montreal.

They also had dismal performances at the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games and won only one gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games with Wuttichai Masuk being the sole champion in the 64kg division.

"We have to win a gold medal or else we can shelve our plans for joining the winners' circle again at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," said TBA technical chief Somchai Poonsawat.

"I keep telling my boxers that 'you need to win at the Asian Games first if you want to win at the Olympics'."

Taekwondo star 'Tennis'

The Taekwondo Association of Thailand is pinning its hope on Panipak Wongpattanakit, who has won in several international tournaments including the Youth Olympics, world championships, Asian championships and SEA Games.

Panipak, one of the best fighters in the world, was disappointed when she could only claim bronze at Incheon 2014.

"It was a pity that I could only get bronze in the previous Asian Games," said the 21-year-old star who is nicknamed Tennis.

"I now have more experience. I am 100 percent ready physically and mentally. I am confident that I will bring back a gold medal for all Thais."

Panipak was a favourite for gold at the 2016 Olympics but had to settle for a bronze.

Coached by Korean Choi Young-Seok, Thailand's other gold medal contenders in Indonesia include Olympic silver medallist Tawin Hanprab and Ramnarong Sawekwiharee.

Teenage hotshot

Thailand won their first Asian Games golf medals at Incheon 2014, capturing one gold in the women's team, a silver (women's individual) and two bronzes (men's team and women's individual).

Thailand Golf Association president Rangsrid Luxitanond is targeting a better performance from his players in Indonesia.

"I am confident that we will win two gold medals in the team events," he said.

It could be three as teenage star Atthaya Thitikul has been in fine form since last year.

Thailand's male players are Kosuke Hamamoto, Sadom Kaewkanchana, Wanchai Luangnitikul and Wichayanont Chotehiranrungroeng.

The women's team members are Atthaya, Kan Bunnabodi and Kulthida Pramphun.

All eyes will be on 15-year-old Atthaya, arguably the world's best female amateur at the moment.

Last year, at the age of 14 years, four months and 19 days, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship in Pattaya to become the youngest ever player to win at a professional event.

A few weeks later, she captured both the team and individual gold medals at the SEA Games.

The Ratchaburi native took the low amateur honours at two major championships this year -- the ANA Inspiration in April and Women's British Open earlier this month.

"My confidence has been boosted by my performance at the Women's British Open. I will try to help the team retain the title but won't put extra pressure on myself," Atthaya said.

Thai sepak takraw players, in yellow, compete at the 2014 Asian Games. (Photos by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Taekwondo star Panipak Wongpattanakit, left, in action at the 2014 Asian Games.

Boxer Wuttichai Masuk, left, during the Incheon Asian Games.

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