Coach Choi granted Thai nationality after leading Kingdom to taekwondo glory
Choi Young-seok was granted Thai citizenship on Thursday, seven months after leading Thailand to its historic first taekwondo gold medal at the Olympics.
Coach Choi, 47, achieved his long-held dream of becoming Thai when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed the order granting his new nationality at Government House.
Born in South Korea on April 30, 1974, Choi began his career in Thailand 20 years ago when the Kingdom’s taekwondo athletes were barely known on the international stage.
Over the next two decades he built Thailand into a taekwondo superpower, culminating in glory last summer in Tokyo where Panipak Wongpattanakit won the Kingdom’s first-ever taekwondo Olympic gold.
Choi began his career coaching the Bahrain national taekwondo team in 2000 on a salary of US$4,000 per month. A year and a half later, he returned to South Korea on leave after his mother passed away. Having had enough of the desert heat, he sent his junior to work in Bahrain and began to look for work elsewhere.
The Taekwondo Association of Thailand got in touch and Choi agreed to help what was then a promising team of young Thai martial artists.
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His first big success came in 2004, when Yaowapa Boorapolchai made history by becoming the Kingdom’s first-ever taekwondo Olympic medallist, winning bronze in Athens.
Choi was awarded the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn at the Foreign Ministry in reward for his efforts at the 2004 Games. He also adopted the unofficial Thai name Chaiyasak.
Four years later, Choi helped Buttree Puedpong grab silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Gold medals for Sarita Phongsri, Chutchawal Khawlaor and Chanatip Sonkham followed at the 2010 Asian Games, before Thailand announced itself as a new taekwondo global power at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea. Rangsiya Nisaisom won Thailand’s first-ever women’s world title, at lightweight (62kg), while Chutchawal Khawlaor grabbed the men’s finweight (54kg) gold medal.
Chanatip also won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics but followed up by clinching the world title (49kg) a year later in Mexico.
Panipak first shot to fame by winning the women’s finweight (54 kg) title at the 2015 World Championships in Russia. Tawin Hanprab won silver in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil before Panipak secured Thailand’s first Olympic taekwondo gold last year.
In between, Choi was named best coach at the 2011 Korea Open after helping Thailand bag 6 golds, 1 silver, and 5 bronze medals in the home of taekwondo.