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Thai athletes who lifted the clouds of gloom in 2021

Thai athletes who lifted the clouds of gloom in 2021

ALL SPORTS: As with the majority of the world’s population, Thailand was unable to escape the wrath of COVID-19 in 2021.

By Bangkok Post

Friday 31 December 2021, 01:15PM

However, many of the nation’s athletes enjoyed dream-come-true achievements to offer some comfort and happiness to their compatriots, writes Wanchai Rujawongsanti in the Bangkok Post.

Thai sports fans saw a taekwondo exponent claim an Olympic gold medal, a Paralympian bag three golds, a golfer win a major championship, and a badminton pair pocket an amazing eight titles among other glorious moments.

Golden kick

Panipak Wongpattanakit became Thailand’s first ever Olympic taekwondo champion in dramatic fashion at the Tokyo Games.

Having had to settle for bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Surat Thani native was favourite to go all the way in the women’s 49kg division at Tokyo 2020.

She reached the final with comfortable wins and faced little-known Adriana Cerezo Iglesias of Spain in the gold medal match.

It seemed Panipak was heading for another heartbreaking finish as the Spaniard was leading as time was expiring.

With seven seconds left, Panipak landed a kick to win 11-10, just days before she turned 24.

“I am happy that I did it. I waited five years for this,” said Panipak, who is nicknamed Tennis.

“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 continue. But after two months, I really missed taekwondo and returned to training.

“I often told myself, ‘You have to go back [to the Olympics] and win [gold medal]’.”

Life-changing medal

Boxer Sudaporn Seesondee was one of Thailand’s only two medallists at the 2020 Olympics along with taekwondo champion Panipak.

The 29-year-old from Udon Thani claimed bronze in Tokyo to become the country’s first female boxer to win an Olympic medal.

“It was the happiest moment in my life when the referee raised my hand [as the winner],” she said after being assured of at least a bronze following her win in the quarter-finals.

It was a life-changing Olympic medal for Sudaporn.

Apart from cash rewards from the government and private companies, Sudaporn, then a volunteer ranger at the Royal Thai Navy, was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant.

Superb shuttlers

Mixed doubles specialists Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai capped off a remarkable year with their first ever world title.

They became the first Thai badminton players to win a doubles crown at the BWF World Championships.

The only other Thai shuttler to win a world title is women’s singles star Ratchanok Intanon, who achieved the feat in 2013.

In all, Dechapol and Sapsiree, now the top-ranked mixed doubles pair, won eight tournaments in 2021, including five in a row in the final stretch of the year.

They played in 10 tournaments and failed to reach the final only once at the Olympics in Tokyo where they suffered an early exit.

“We are very happy with this year, and thankful to our fans,” said Sapsiree.

It’s ‘just crazy’

At the beginning of the 2021 season, only die-hard Thai golf fans knew something about Patty Tavatanakit.

Then in April, she became a shining star on the international stage thanks to her breakthrough LPGA Tour win at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major.

Patty, whose Thai name is Paphangkorn, is her country’s only second major winning golfer after Ariya Jutanugarn.

Now her country’s highest-ranked player at No.13, Patty also won the LPGA Tour’s rookie of the year honours and the Annika Major Award which recognises the player who has the most outstanding record in all five major championships in the season.

“It feels great to be a major champion,” said Patty after the ANA Inspiration.

“I just turned 21 six months ago and now I’m a major champion in my rookie year. Just crazy.”

Local hero

Eight years ago, Ariya had a disastrous finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club in Pattaya where she blew a two-stroke lead at the final hole.

She buried the ghosts at the same venue in May when she took the title to become the first local star to win the tournament.

“I’m proud of myself. This means the world to me because one of my biggest dreams was to win in Thailand especially after 2013,” said the twice major winner.

She also partnered with her sister Moriya to win the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a doubles tournament, for her 12th LPGA title.

Teenage prodigy

Teenage golfer Atthaya Thitikul won two tournaments on the Ladies European Tour and claimed all the circuit’s major season-ending honours - the Race to Costa del Sol, player of the year and rookie of the year.

She finished second twice on the LPGA Tour at the LPGA Thailand and the Women’s Scottish Open as well as fifth at the Evian Championship.

The 18-year-old from Ratchaburi finished third at the Q-Series this month to earn an LPGA Tour card for next season.

“My goal is to get better every single day,” she said.

Hot Wheels

Wheelchair racer Pongsakorn Paeyo claimed golds in the men’s 100m, 400m and 800m T53 events at Tokyo, making him the first Thai to win three titles at one Paralympic Games.

“My next target is certainly Paris 2024. I have to prepare myself from now to make Thais happy again,” said the 24-year-old from Khon Kaen.

Pongsakorn has now won five Paralympic gold medals, two short of the country’s record set by fellow wheelchair racer Prawat Wahoram who has bagged seven.

Fabulous women

Thailand’s Fab Six played their last game for the country at the FIVB Women’s Volleyball Nations League (VNL) in Rimini, Italy, in June.

Captain Wilavan Apinyapong, Malika Kanthong, Onuma Sittirak, Pleumjit Thinkaow, Nootsara Tomkom, and Amporn Hyapha bade farewell to the national side after some two decades.

The Thailand Volleyball Association (TVA) had called up a young team for the 2021 VNL, hoping to groom them to win the country’s first ever Olympic berth in the sport at Paris 2024.

Unfortunately, a large number of them tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the TVA to ask the Fab Six to help the country for one last time.

The sport’s governing body FIVB hailed them as “fabulous women”.

“Coming from a country with a rich volleyball history in Southeast Asia, six women came together to chase their dreams and become the country’s sporting heroes,” said an article on

“What they lacked in height they more than made up for with creativity, technique, speed, teamwork, heart and passion.”

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