With five seconds remaining and trailing 10-9 in the gold medal match, Panipak landed a kick on Spanish teenager Adriana Cerezo Iglesias to win 11-10.
“It’s super-dramatic,” said one Thai TV commentator.
“It’s a historic shot,” added another of the winning kick.
The 23-year-old from Surat Thani is the first Thai to win a medal at Tokyo 2020 and also the country’s first-ever gold medallist in taekwondo.
It is Thailand’s 10th gold medal overall as the country had won nine Olympic titles only in weightlifting (five) and boxing (four).
With the triumph, Panipak buried the ghosts of the Rio Olympics in 2016 when she was a favourite but had to settle for bronze.
She almost quit after the heartbreaking result but decided to give herself another chance to fulfil her dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.
Panipak is now Thailand’s most successful taekwondo participant of all time, having also won gold medals at the 2015 and 2019 world championships, and 2018 Asian Games, among other achievements.
The Thai taekwondo team has continued winning at least one medal in every Games since Yaowapa Burapolchai became the Kingdom’s first Olympic medallist in 2004 when she claimed bronze in Athens.
In yesterday’s action, Panipak had comfortable wins before the final.
She began her campaign with a 29-5 win over Israel’s Avishag Semberg.
Panipak beat Truong Kim Tuyen of Vietnam 20-11 in the quarter-finals, and defeated Japan’s Miyu Yamada 34-12 in the last four.
In the final, Panipak was 6-4 behind Iglesias after the first round.
The Thai took a 9-6 advantage after the second round but the Spaniard scored for a 10-9 lead late in the third and final round.
As Panipak seemed to be heading for another heartbreaking finish, she scored two points as time was expiring.
Panipak and her coach Choi Young-Seok celebrated by running around the competition venue with a large Thai flag.
Serbia’s Tijana Bogdanovic and Israel’s Semberg won the two bronze medals in the women’s 49kg contest.
Ramnarong Sawekwiharee, Thailand’s only other taekwondo fighter at Tokyo 2020, lost in the quarter-finals of the men’s 58kg division.
Thailand’s sporting authorities expected their athletes to bring home one to three gold medals.
Other Thai prospects include mixed doubles badminton duo Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, golfers Patty Tavatanakit and Ariya Jutanugarn, boxers Sudaporn Seesondee and Chatchai-decha Butdee.
Thailand claimed two gold, two silver and two bronze medals at Rio 2016.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was quick to congratulate Papipak for her success.
“It is a reward for an athlete who trained hard with determination during this difficult time,” government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri quoted Gen Prayut as saying.
Chatchai-decha and Baison off to impressive start
Elsewhere, two Thai boxers in action yesterday recorded impressive victories in their opening bouts at the Games.
Baison Maneekon beat Saadat Dalgatova of the Russian Olympic Committee 4-1 to reach the last 16 round of the women’s welterweight (69kg) division at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.
Baison will fight China’s Gu Hong, who received a first round bye, for a place in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
In the men’s featherweight (57kg) division, Chatchai-decha Butdee overpowered Peter McGrail of Great Britain with a 5-0 victory.
He will face Jehiel Mirco Cuello of Argentina, who defeated Hamsat Shadalov of Germany, in the last 16 round on Wednesday.
The other Two Thai fighters in Tokyo are Juthamas Chitrapong (women’s 51kg) and Sudaporn Seesondee (women’s 60kg).
In badminton, mixed doubles stars Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Busanan Ongbamrungphan won their opening matches at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza yesterday.
Third seeds Dechapol and Sapsiree defeated Joshua Hurlburt-Yu and Josephine Wu of Canada 21-13, 21-6 in Group B.
They are in action again today against France’s Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue, who lost to Great Britain’s Marcus Ellis and Lauren Smith in their first match yesterday.
Busanan began her Tokyo campaign with a comprehensive win over Daniela Macias of Peru in the women’s singles Group D competition.
The 25-year-old star was the first Thai shuttler in action in Tokyo and she did not disappoint, easing past Macias 21-4, 21-9 in just 31 minutes.
Busanan will play Kristine Kuuba of Estonia, the other player in Group D, on Tuesday.
However, Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai went down to second seeds Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan of China 6-21, 10-21 in the opening match of the women’s doubles Group D.
Having been drawn in the so-called “Group of Death”, the ninth-seeded Thai duo will have another tough match against fifth seeds Kim So-Yeong and Kong Hee-Yong of South Korea today.
European champions Gabriela Stoeva and Stefani Stoeva of Bulgaria are the other team in the group.
Ratchanok Intanon and Kantaphon Wangcharoen both begin their challenge today.
Fifth seed Ratchanok, in her third Olympics, takes on Laura Sarosi of Hungary in the women’s singles Group N, while debutant Kantaphon plays Kai Schaefer of Germany in Group K of the men’s singles event.