By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
Unfancied Thai-Australian Jai Angsuthasawit captured the long-awaited 10th Asian Games gold medal for Thailand after he crossed the finish line first in the men’s cycling keirin final at the Jakarta International Velodrome on Friday.
On a day that Thai hopes were shattered with three male boxers losing their semi-final bouts, the 23-year-old cyclist came out of nowhere to lift the Kingdom’s spirits fully five days after skeet shooter Sutiya Jiewchaloemmmit won the ninth and last of the country’s golds.
Jai, or TJ, suddenly sprinted past Japanese Yudai Nitta in just a fraction of second to finish in 10.009 seconds, just 0.003 ahead on the line.
“I was confident I would medal. But I wasn’t sure that I’d win,” said Jai, who had to compete in the repechages for a spot in the final after failing to get through the morning’s qualifying round.
“I saved a lot of energy following the Japanese guy and made my move at the right time. I’m so proud to make this history for Thailand,” added Jai after his biggest and most surprising career win. He finished ninth in the keirin at the Asian Championships in Malaysia earlier this year.
Jia whose favourite Thai food is green curry sets his next target in the World Championships and in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Jai’s triumph, the first ever for Thailand in keirin, underlined the surprise success of the Thai Cycling Association, which achieved its target in Indonesia, claiming one gold, two silvers from mountain bike and BMX, and three bronzes from the mountain bike and road events.
Earlier, three Thai boxers all suffered semi-final losses at the hands of Uzbek fighters.
Flyweight Yuttapong Thongdee had no match for the aggressive and quick-punching former World Championships bronze medallist Rogen Ladon of the Philippines, who trounced him 5-0.
Lightweight Rujakran Juntrong was then bombarded by a series of rapid punches by Shunkor Abdurasulov of Uzbekistan and lost the battle of the southpaws, also a 5-0 unanimous decision.
Things got even worse as welterweight Saylom Ardee, a quarter-finalist at the Rio Olympics, succumbed 4-1 to yet another Uzbek, Bobo Usmon Baturov.
Saylom, 32, from Khon Kaen, did at least win his first medal in four attempts as he waved farewell to the Asian Games.
Sudaporn Seesondee (red)
It was left to one of Thailand’s female fighters, Sudaporn Seesondee, to save the nation’s blushes, outclassing home fighter Huswatun Dasanah 5-0. She will face South Korean Oh Yeonji in the final on Saturday.
In the evening's session, defending light welterwight champion Wuttichai Masuk was dethroned by old foe Chinzorig Baatarsukh of Mongolia 2-3 while Nilawan Techasuep lost to Yin Junhua of China 0-5 in women's featherweight.
In sepak takraw, the women’s quadrant team lived up to expectations as they stormed into the final following a 2-0 win over Laos. Thailand will play Vietnam who ousted host Indonesia 2-1 in Saturday’s final.
In sailing, Thailand won two bronzes, in the 49er FX women and 470 men, plus one bronze, in the windsurfing women’s RSX.