Thailand’s Maneepong Jongjit (front) and Bosin Isara play against Malaysia’s Kien Keat Koo and Boon Heong Tan during their mens doubles quarterfinals match during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Wembley Arena yesterday. Photograph: Reuters
With the biggest controversy of the London Games so far still raging around the badminton courts of Wembley Arena, I shuttled myself across town from the Olympic Park on Wednesday to catch up with the progress of the promising young Thai team.
While the mixed doubles pair of Sudket Prapakamol and his partner Saralee Thoungthongkam were outclassed 15-21, 13-21 by their fourth-seeded Danish rivals Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen, the Thai spirits remained high due to a rousing victory by 17-year-old sensation Ratchanok Inthanon.
The youngster belied her years with a composed 21-16, 21-15 win in her women’s singles last 16 match against 29-year-old Juliane Schenk of Germany, who had beaten her at the German Open five months ago.
“I felt quite tense before the match,” Ratchanok told the Post. “I was the underdog.”
She’ll certainly carry this tag into her quarterfinal with former world number 1 and second seed Wang Xin of China.
The mixed press zone at Wembley Arena also afforded me a decent chat with badminton hall-of-famer Charoen Wattanasin. The charismatic 75-year-old was not a stranger to the London courts, having represented Thailand at the prestigious All-England Badminton Championship when he was 19 and 20.
“I was playing here when you were not even born yet,” he told my apparently youthful looking face. “Definitely not.”
Charoeun’s business card reveals a whole host of titles on the sporting world, including vice president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand, president of the Badminton Association of Thailand, honorary life vice president of the World Badminton Federation, council member of the Southeast Asian Games Federation and member of the Rules Committee of the Olympic Council of Asia.
Between the years of 1958 and 1962, he won Open titles in Malaya, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and France. “I’ve been building up Thai badminton over the past 10 years,” he said.
“It’s much better than before. We used to have just one or two [qualify for the Olympics]. Now we have over 10.
“All this was made possible by one person that supports me and supports Thai badminton – the King of Thailand. He loves the sport and granted his personal support. He is not doing this for duty, he is doing it from the heart.”
Charoeun noted his pleasure at Ratchanok’s result, while detailing her remarkable rise to glory from the humblest of backgrounds. “Her parents were workers at a Thai pudding factory in Nakhon Pathom [60 kilometres west of Bangkok],” he said.
“They had 10, 20 badminton courts in the complex and they tried to keep her away from the hot furnace, so she spent a lot of time on court and played badminton since she was four or five years old.
“She was a world junior champion at the age of 14, and she has successfully defended her title twice,” he added. “I hope she will get a medal, but she is very young and we don’t want to put too much pressure on her. We have several more youngsters coming up.”
Thailand have never won an Olympic medal in badminton, although Boonsak Ponsana made the semifinals of the 2004 Athens Games men’s singles competition, were he lost to gold medallist Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia.
In yesterday’s morning session, the men’s doubles team of Bofin Isara and Maneepong Jongjit lost 2-0 (16-21, 18-21) against Malaysian duo Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at [email protected] reporting from London