Strong contingent no guarantee of gold

Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn watches her drive from the fourth tee on the third day of the 2016 Women's British Open Golf Championships, on July 30.
Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn watches her drive from the fourth tee on the third day of the 2016 Women's British Open Golf Championships, on July 30.PHOTO: AFP

THAILAND'S INVESTMENT IN RIO ATHLETES: 250 MILLION BAHT (S$9.7 MILLION)

Thailand is regarded as the South-east Asia's traditional sporting kingpin, and for good reason.

With seven Olympic golds, it is the region's most successful country at the world's most prestigious sporting event. It also has six silvers and 11 bronzes for a combined 24 medals.

This success has come from just three sports: boxing, weightlifting and taekwondo - with boxing the best performer by far.

Thailand's first medal came through boxer Payao Poontarat, who went from flower seller to bronze medallist in the men's light flyweight in Montreal 1976.

The gold rush began also with a boxer - Somluck Kamsing in the men's featherweight category in Atlanta 1996.

  • Team Thailand

  • For the first time in four decades, Thailand may not have to rely on just boxing, weightlifting or taekwondo for glory at the Olympics.

    The Thai contingent at the Rio Games have been hailed as the kingdom's strongest yet.

    Besides the kingdom's three traditional strengths, there is also hope that badminton, shooting and golf will deliver this time.

    Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit is the world's top-ranked skeet shooter. In golf, world No. 7 Ariya Jutanugarn is in red-hot form, becoming the first Thai to win an event on the top women's tour, the LPGA, in May and then going on to win three titles in a row during the month.

    THE CONTINGENT

    52 athletes across 14 sports (archery, athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, golf, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting)

Since then, the Thai anthem has rung at least once at every Games, with Athens 2004 its best yet - eight medals, including three golds.

But success came to a halt at the last edition in London - just two silvers and a bronze.

To ensure that was just a one-off, the Thai government has reportedly sunk almost 250 million baht (S$9.7 million) on its squad of 52 competing in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2016 contingent is one of its strongest yet, with medal chances in badminton, shooting and golf - sports outside of the Thais' traditional strengths.

Olympic champions are given a 10 million baht cash incentive, runners-up six million baht and bronze medallists four million baht. Authorities are understood to be considering a 20 per cent increase for the rewards, a change which could take place before the Games begin.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Strong contingent no guarantee of gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe