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Thai sports moving into the big time : On August 7, 2006

Olympic success for boxers and weightlifters put the kingdom on the world sporting map while golf and tennis also received international recognition

Several Thai sports have gone from humble beginnings to glory on the international stage since the establishment of the Bangkok Post 60 years ago. Boxing, both amateur and professional, has been the most successful Thai sport at the highest level having produced dozens of world champions and three Olympic gold medallists.

Tennis and golf, once exclusive games for the elite, have become affordable to a large number of people, and Thai players in both sports have made a name internationally in recent years.

Thailand took part in their first Olympics at the 1952 Helsinki Games. It took them 44 years to win their first medal when boxer Payao Pooltarat clinched a bronze in Montreal in 1976.

Payao aimed to do better at the 1980 Moscow Games but was deprived of the chance as Thailand joined a boycott led by the United States.

He then turned professional and became a world champion. After hanging up his gloves, he entered politics and became a member of Parliament.

Since Payao's success, Thailand have won medals in every Olympics the country has taken part in.

Tawee Amphornmaha, better known by his Muay Thai name Khaophong Sithichuchai, won the Kingdom's first Olympic silver medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Boxers Pachon Moonsan and Arkom Chenglai won a bronze in Seoul in 1988 and in Barcelona in 1992 respectively before another boxer, Somluck Kamsing, wrote a new chapter in Thai sporting history.

Somluck clinched the country's first Olympic gold medal in 1996 while Vichai Rachanont won a bronze in Atlanta.

Wijarn Ponlid followed in the footsteps of Somluck punching his way to grab a gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Also at the Millennium Games, weightlifter Khassaraporn Suta claimed a bronze to become Thailand's first woman and first athlete in a sport other than boxing to win an Olympic medal.

Thailand enjoyed their most successful Olympics at the 2004 Games in Athens where they took home eight medals including golds from boxer Manus Boonjumnong and weightlifters Udomporn Polsak and Pawina Thongsuk.

Udomporn and Pawina became Thailand's first female Olympic champions. Udomporn has since retired while Pawina has become probably the most versatile weightlifter of all time winning several titles and set new records in 63, 69 and 75kg divisions in international competitions including the World Championships.

Other medals were won by boxers Worapoj Petchkoom (silver) and Suriya Prasarthinphimai (bronze), weightlifters Wandee Kameaim (bronze) and Aree Wiratthaworn (bronze) and taekwondo exponent Yaowapa Burapolchai (bronze). Yaowapa was the first Thai to win an Olympic medal in a sport other than boxing and weightlifting.

In professional boxing, Pone Kingpetch became the Kingdom's first world champion in 1960 when he outpointed flyweight title holder Pascual Perez of Argentina at Lumpini Stadium.

It was a great achievement by the Hua Hin native as he was a 2-1 underdog and had never fought in the Thai capital before.

Thailand have since produced a long list of world champions including Chartchai Chionoi, Saensak Muangsurin, Khaosai Galaxy and Pongsaklek Wongjongkam, who was recently inducted in the WBC Hall of Fame after 15 successful title defences.

The Football Association of Thailand celebrated its 100th anniversary this year and its achievement has been winning the SEA Games seven times in a row and reaching the semi-finals in the two previous Asian Games in 1998 and 2002.

The Thai national footbal team have participated in two Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 and in Mexico City in 1970 at a time when the qualifying was not fierce.

The country entered the World Cup qualifying round in the 1970s and are still looking forward to their first finals berth.

Tennis star Paradorn Srichaphan burst into the international scene in 2002 when he beat Andre Agassi at Wimbledon. Later that year, he won the first of his five ATP Tour titles in Stockholm.

He has played a huge role in boosting the popularity of the sport in Thailand, although he has been less than impressive lately.

Golfers Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant both won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in recent years. Thongchai won the Malaysian Open in 2003 to become the first Thai to triumph on the European Tour. He successfully defended the title the following year.

Thaworn was victorious on the European Tour last year and set a record of most wins _ four _ in one season on the Asian Tour. He made the cut on his way to finish joint 37th at the British Open last month.

Snooker was once one of the most popular sports here in the 1990s when Wattana Pu-Ob-Orm, known internationally as James Wattana, became the first player from the Far East to make a significant impact in professional snooker.

Once the world's number three and twice semi-finalist at the Crucible, Wattana, now Ratchapol, has failed to reach his potential, and the popularity of snooker has plunged in accordance with his decline.

The most glittering moments in Thai sporting history took place in 1967 when His Majesty the King and his daughter Princess Ubolratana won the gold medal in the OK Dinghy class of yachting at the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games.

Although the King is now not an active athlete, he is still a keen supporter of Thai athletes competing in international competitions. As 2004 Olympic champion Manus put it, it was His Majesty's encouraging message that spurred him to the gold medal.

Muay Thai Camp & Boxing Training in Phuket, Thailand
Suwit Gym ( Muay Thai camp ) 15 Moo 1 , Choa Fa Rd , T. Chalong , A. Muang , Phuket , Thailand , 83130 
Tel . (66) 76 374313

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