BANGKOK • It would not be an exaggeration to say that Panipak Wongpattanakit is an Olympic champion in the making, given that the taekwondo exponent has swept almost everything before her on the way to a first appearance on world sport's biggest stage this week.
Since marking her debut at international level with a title at the 2012 Korea Open at the age of 13, she has never looked back and she quickly emerged as the most likely to claim Thailand's first Olympic gold medal in the Korean martial art.
The 18-year-old has now earned her first crack at the Olympic title, the only major trophy missing from her glittering resume.
That includes gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, two years ago as well as the World Championship title in the women's 46kg class in May last year in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Thailand's Rio medal hopeful Panipak Wongpattanakit's rank in the World Taekwondo Federation's Olympic pecking order.
The fact that the Taekwondo Association of Thailand preferred to pick the prodigious teen ahead of London Olympic bronze medallist Chanatip Sonkham to compete in Rio, along with Tawin Hanprab and Phannapa Harnsujin, already speaks volumes about her undoubted potential, noted The Nation.
Thailand has yet to win a title in taekwondo at the Olympics, with Buttree Puedpong's silver at the 2008 Beijing Games sandwiched by two bronzes from Yaowapa Boorapolchai in 2004 and Chanatip in 2012.
However, many pundits are now tipping Panipak, who sits in second spot in the world rankings, to succeed where her three female predecessors failed by clinching the country's maiden Olympic title in the women's 49kg division.
Given her ranking, the Thai would be in a different half of the draw from top-ranked Chinese Wu Jingyu, who won back-to-back Olympic titles.
If the two manage to go all the way to the final in Rio de Janeiro, it could well be too close to call a winner.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK