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Thai no-hopers turn top prospects as Games near

BOXING: A year ago Thai boxers were being pushed aside as no-hopers. However, now that the crunch time is nearing, the five fighters who have qualified for the Aug 5-21 Rio Olympics are being burdened with the onus of delivering gold.

Bangkok Post

Tuesday 26 July 2016, 12:11PM

Former IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng. Photo: Bangkok Post
Former IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng. Photo: Bangkok Post

The Thai fighters who have earned tickets to the Games are Chatchai Butdee (56kg), Amnat Ruenroeng (60kg), Wuttichai Masuk (64kg), Sailom Ardee (69kg) and Peamwilai Laopeam (women's 51kg).

The Thailand Boxing Association (TBA), which replaced the now-defunct Amateur Boxing Association of Thailand in August 2011, is hoping that the Rio Games will produce the first gold medal since the inception of the new national governing body.

After failing to deliver four years ago in London, where Thailand only pocketed a silver from Kaew Pongprayoon, Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit resigned as TBA president in February 2013 and Pichai Chunhavajira has been at the helm since then.

So far, the TBA has struggled a bit on the international stage under Pichai, especially at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea and at the SEA Games in Singapore a year later.

They could only manage a paltry aggregate of three gold medals from the two events and two of them were produced by Wuttichai.

A below-par performance by the Thai coaching staff was blamed for the failure and wholesale changes to the team administration followed in an attempt to rekindle hopes of having some Thai boxers qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

Taweewat Islam was brought in to replace Somyot Chulasen as the head coach.

ACM Peerapat Larpboonlert was substituted by Somchai Poonsawat as the technical chief and Paiboon Chaisriswat, a former leading judge, also came in to work with the team.

There were some changes that involved boxers as well – Chatchai moved up from 52kg to 56kg and Sailom from 60kg to 69kg. Some Muay Thai boxers were also recruited.

Four months later, the changes bore fruits at the Asian Championships in Thailand.

Wuttichai and Chatchai were crowned champions while Sailom reached the quarter-finals. More importantly, the trio sported an improved boxing style.

To encourage the boxers to fight for Olympic berths, the TBA promised a cash bonus of two million baht each for making it to the Rio Games.

Wuttichai lived up to his potential by becoming the first Thai to qualify for the Rio Games after finishing third at the World Championships in Doha last October.

Chatchai and Sailom followed him through the Asia and Oceania Olympic qualification event in China in April.

In May, Peamwilai earned one more Olympic place for Thailand by reaching the 51kg class final at the Women’s World Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The 32-year-old is Thailand’s first-ever female boxer to qualify for the Olympics.

The hopes to get one more Olympic berth fizzled out at the world qualification tournament in Baku and the TBA was left with no choice but to bring in a professional boxer to compete at the final qualification event in Venezuela.

Amnat, recruited to the team a few months after losing his IBF flyweight belt earlier this year, sealed his second appearance in the Olympics by reaching the final at the event in Venezuela.

Although they missed their six-spot target, getting five boxers through to the Games is no mean feat for the TBA.

As far as the Asian qualifiers are concerned, Thailand only lag behind Kazakhstan (12), China (11), Uzbekistan (11) and Mongolia (6).

The Philippines, who swept five gold medals at last year’s SEA Games, have two Olympic tickets and South Korea, who won two gold medals while playing host to the 2014 Asian Games, have only bantamweight Ham Sang-Myeong going to Rio.

The 20-year-old Ham, a gold medallist at the Incheon Games, was granted a place in the Olympics when of one of the 28 bantamweight qualifiers pulled out recently.

Wild Wake Thailand

Sailom is the most experienced fighter in the Thai team after having joined the previous Olympics in Beijing and London, while Chatchai and Amnat will be making their second attempts. Wuttichai and Peamwilai will be making their debuts.

In the 69kg, Sailom, who lost in the first round in the London Games, is likely to find the going tough in Rio.

By moving up from the 60kg division, the 30-year-old may find himself at a disadvantage to his opponents in terms of physique and punch power.

“Sailom continues to stick to his own style and without a change, there is no way for him to be successful,” coach Taweewat said.

Amnat, who lost in the quarter-finals at the Beijing Games eight years ago in controversial circumstances, also has a difficult assignment made even more onerous by his style and advanced age.

Unseeded in the 60kg class, the 36-year-old can face tough rivals in the early stage. Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez, a three-time world champion and the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, and Brazil’s Robson Conceicao, bronze medallist at the last year’s World Championships, are the title favourites.

European champion Albert Selimov of Azerbaijan is also among the title contenders.

Bantamweight Chatchai, who lost in the second round in London, is in a better shape this time. The 31-year-old has significantly improved since winning the Asian title.

Coach Taweewat is impressed with his fast improvement and believes he is good enough to claim a medal. Title contenders in the 56kg include Ireland’s Michael Conlan, gold medalsllist at the World Championships last year, and Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez, who has moved up from the 52kg class in which he took gold at London 2012.

Murodjon Akhmadaliev of Uzbekistan and Dzmitry Asanau of Bulgaria are also strong contenders.

Chatchai beat Akhmadaliev in the final of the Asian Championships but lost to him in the quarter-finals at the World Championships.

“I am really happy with the way Chatchai has performed of late,” said the coach. “If he keeps developing, he can be one of our medal hopes.”

In the 64kg, debutant Wuttichai, the cream of the Thai team, has a long record of success over Asian opponents but he seems to struggle a bit when facing fighters from other continents.

Additionally, his tendency to hold or tie-up an opponent can get him penalised in Rio.

“He must improve his style if he wants to be successful in the Olympic Games,” Taweewat said. Thailand’s best hopes lie in Peamwilai. The 32-year-old lost to reigning Olympic champion Nicola Adams of Britain in the World Championships final in May.

Throughout the close fight against Adams, she showed it won’t be too difficult to be successful in the Games.

The TBA is also pinning its hopes on world No.3 Peamwilai than any other fighter.

There are only 12 boxers in each of the three women’s divisions so Peamvillai can hope for a bye in the first round and start her campaign in the quarter-finals, leaving her only one win away from winning a medal. The draw will be made on Aug 4.

TBA official Paiboon said Peamwilai stands a better chance of winning gold because she has fought almost every qualifier before the Games.

Paiboon, however, asked the Thai fans not to put too much pressure on the fighters as “anything can happen in boxing as seen at many international events.”

Read original story here.



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