Thailand's Maneepong Jongjit (green shirt, L) makes a shot during their men's doubles match against South Korea at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Photograph: Dan Riley/Phnom Penh Post
With Cambodia’s Olympic dream stumbling out of the blocks in the judo on Saturday and their next athlete, Hem Thon Ponleu, due up in the swimming heats on Thursday, I had time on Sunday to peruse some efforts from a neighbouring nation. And Team Thailand failed to disappoint with a strong showing on the badminton courts of Wembley Arena.
In the shadow of the iconic national football stadium, the arena is housing the hotly contested badminton competition for nine days up until this Sunday, after which rhythmic gymnastics will take over.
The sport has been dominated by the continent of Asia, whose players have grabbed 69 of the 76 available medals since its Olympic introduction at the Barcelona Games of 1992.
China still maintains is powerhouse status in badminton, with top seedings in all the doubles events as well as men’s world No 1 Lin ‘Super’ Dan and women’s world No 1 Wang Yihan.
Neither of them were in action on Sunday, sadly, nor Malaysia’s world No 2 Lee Chong Wei. Still, the Thai shuttlers made it worth the trip.
In the morning session, three-time world junior champion Ratchanok Intanon, who at 17 years old is the youngest badminton player at the Games, made a winning start to her women’s singles Group M campaign with a comfortable 21/15 – 21/5 defeat of Sri Lanka’s Thilini Jayasinghe.
Compatriots Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee Thoungthongkam then kept up the momentum with a 21/15 – 21/16 victory over fancied Taiwanese mixed doubles pair Chen Hung Ling and Cheng Wen Hsing.
Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana took on World No 3 Chen Long of China and lost 21/12 – 21/17.
Coach Kookasemkit Sompol, who represented Thailand as a player at the 1992 Barcelona Games and had gone on to coach Olympic teams for the Atlanta, Sydney and Athens Games, said they were not overly concerned with the result against a strong Chinese opponent.
“We will try for the next match,” he told the Post. “It’s very difficult, but we have a chances for medals. The women’s singles player needs four more victories to capture a medal. I hope we can win one.”
In the last of the afternoon session matches, men’s doubles partners Bodin Isara and Maneepong Jongjit registered a surprise win over South Korean duo Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong, who were ranked thirteen places above them in the world and seeded fourth in the event.
Although most spectators were concentrating on the women’s doubles match between Japan and Singapore on the adjacent court, the Thais were busy unlocking their Koreans foes’ defences.
Both Bodin and Maneepong seemed content at spurring themselves on, and neatly claimed the first set 21-15 thanks to some impressive smashes and acrobatic saves, including a sublime low pick up by Bodin to set up numerous set points.
The game then enjoyed the conclusion of the women’s match to allow chants from the Thai fans to finally be heard.
A couple of Bangkok-born ‘nutters’, sporting Thai flag adorned attire, ensured the atmosphere remained jovial with some humorous and familiar sounding shoutouts, including a rendition of “When the Saints go marching in” that had most stands clapping along in unison.
The Thai contingency were to be rewarded with another fine display of power shots and athletic returns that clinched a decisive second set 21/14.
“This was our second match [after victory over an Indonesia pair on Saturday] and it was really important for us to win to guarantee a place in the quarterfinals,” Maneepong Jongjit told the Post after the game. “We try our best to win as it is our first time at the Olympics and it was so hard for us to qualify. It really is a dream come true.”
Maneepong assured he would take all-comers in the next round, holding no fear of any doubles team including the Chinese.
“We’re not afraid of anyone,” added the 21-year-old.
Quarterfinals are slated for tomorrow, while the gold medal match will be held this Sunday.
In an evening men’s singles match during Sunday’s evening session, Vietnam’s Nguyen Tien Minh battled past his Belgian opponent Yuhan Tan 17/21 – 21/14 – 21/10.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at [email protected] reporting from London