Panipak's golden dream comes true
Surat Thani native pulls off last-gasp victory in title showdown
Panipak Wongpattanakit may have been nicknamed 'Tennis', but it is taekwondo that she always excels in and on Saturday the Thai star fulfilled her dream of becoming an Olympic champion in the Korean martial art at the Tokyo Games.
The 23-year-old defeated Spain's Adriana Cerezo Iglesias 11-10 with a last-gasp kick in the women's 49kg final to become Thailand's first winner at Tokyo 2020 and also the country's first Olympic gold medallist in taekwondo.
The Surat Thani native now has a complete collection of gold medals from major international tournaments including the world championships and Asian Games.
Panipak was a title contender at Rio 2016 but had to settle for bronze.
She was so upset by the result that she thought about quitting the sport after returning home.
But after staying away from taekwondo for two months, she decided to carry on for another chance to get an Olympic gold medal.
"I had a really good chance in Rio but in a fraction of a second, I blew it. I was so disappointed and I told my coach I did not want to keep going. But after two months, I really missed taekwondo and resumed training," Panipak said.
"I often told myself, 'You have to go back [to the Olympics] and win'."
As the top-ranked fighter in the women's 49kg class, Panipak won all four matches in Tokyo.
She began her campaign with a 29-5 win over Israel's Avishag Semberg.
Panipak then beat Truong Kim Tuyen of Vietnam 20-11 in the quarter-finals, and defeated Japan's Miyu Yamada 34-12 in the last four before completing her mission with the victory against Iglesias in the gold medal match.
Panipak was born in a sports-mad family. Her father Sirichai participated in football, athletics and swimming while her late mother Vantana was a swimmer. She also has two older siblings who are nicknamed 'Bowling' and 'Baseball'.
When she was young, she was slim and allergic to several things including seafood although she was born and grew up in the seaside province of Surat Thani.
As a result, her father wanted her to play sports to improve her health.
She tried several sports including swimming, volleyball and athletics but was not good at anything until she took up taekwondo.
Panipak soon become successful in the Korean combat sport and her rise caught the eye of Thailand coach Choi Young-Seok who invited her to a trial.
She has since won gold medals at the 2014 Youth Olympics, 2015 and 2019 world championships, 2018 Asian Games and 2020 Olympics.
Her success in Tokyo is also a dream come true for both South Korean Choi and Taekwondo Association of Thailand (TAT) president Pimol Srivikorn.
"It's time for us to win a gold medal," Pimol said before the Tokyo Games.
He has served as TAT president since 2007 after being in holding positions in the association.
Choi once said his ultimate goal was to produce an Olympic champion for Thailand.
In fact, he wanted to be a Thai coach who guided a Thai athlete to the top of the podium at the Olympics.
He is applying for Thai citizenship but the process takes time so he could not become a Thai before the Games.