By LERPONG AMSA-NGIAM
The sport lost much of its lustre and support in the country following the national team’s failure to win a single medal for the first time in 40 years at the 2016 Olympics. Since Payao Poontarat won the light flyweight bronze in Montreal 1976, the Kingdom had won at least one medal in every Olympic Games until last year.
The 32-year-old fighter, who won two golds at the 2009 and 2013 SEA Games, was part of the Rio Games squad last year and saw the flop at close quarters.
“Thai fans have lost their faith in amateur boxing after we came home empty-handed last year. So we are determined to win back their trust. We are desperate to see them follow and support us again,” said Chatchai, who is among the Thai gold medal prospects at the SEA Games along with |two-time defending champion Wuttichai Masuk (64kg) and 2015 silver medallist Tanes Ongjunta (52).
“My target is a gold medal and I will do all I can to achieve that. The team is 90 per cent ready. They just need to shed a little weight before the competition starts,” said Chatchai, who will compete in the 56kg category.
Thai Boxing Association’s technical chief Somchai Poolsavasdi expects all six boxers to reach the finals and has set three gold medals as the target. However, he is wary about the quality of officiating at the Games, with possible judging errors likely to rankle supporters.
“We had lessons from the last Olympics. Boxing is a judged sport, so there can be tough calls. I only hope the judges will be fair to all sides,” Somchai said. National coach Julian Picardo Gonzalez Cedeno, who led the Cuban team to three Olympics gold medals last year, said his Thai charges have been training hard in camp in Nakhon Ratchasima. He says all of them have the potential to reign supreme in the SEA Games but insists on the importance of focusing on one bout at a time.
“Each fight is different because each opponent has a different style. Our boxer must figure out how to compete in each match first. We should think about the medal later,” said Cedeno.