The Gold medal win last Saturday has given some encouragement to many ordinary Thais who feel deeply the sense of helplessness that pervades the kingdom with a mounting virus toll and crisis that the government seems unable to control. The fact that the win came with the Thai athlete’s last kick against her Spanish opponent in the 49 kg Taekwondo competition final, makes the feat all the more inspiring.
23-year-old Thai gold medalist and national heroine Ms Phanipak Wongpattanakit bowed low at her father’s feet once she landed on the ground at Phuket International Airport on Monday morning to show respect in the traditional Thai custom. She was greeted by high profile officials including a cabinet minister and the governor of the island province as she disembarked with her teammates on a 14-day holiday availing of the Phuket Sandbox tourist offering. Her triumph was made complete when it was announced that she would be receiving ฿10 million from the Sports Authority of Thailand as a reward for her historic, last gasp win in Tokyo on Saturday.
Amid the gloom and crisis facing the country in recent days over the virus, came uplifting and exciting news from the Olympic Games in Tokyo when 23-year-old Thai athlete Phanipak Wongpattanakit won Gold on Saturday the 24th July in a last gasp kick with just 7 seconds to spare against Spanish competitor, 17-year-old Adriana Se Rezo Iglesias.
She was competing in the 49kg weight Taekwondo final.
Coming at such a dark time for the kingdom, the boost to morale from the Gold medal win among the public has been all the more potent.
฿10 million reward from the government as well as a 14 day holiday in Phuket to help Olympian celebrate
In its aftermath, Ms Phanipak has been offered ฿10 million by the Sports Authority of Thailand from the National Sports Development Fund while her team has been inundated with offers of support valued at well over ฿20 million as Thais celebrate the dramatic victory.
On Monday, the gold medalist flew into Phuket to holiday for 14 days with her teammates and their South Korean coach, Choi Young-Seok also known affectionately as ‘Coach Che’ who is currently in the process of applying for Thai citizenship having worked with the team for nearly twenty years.
This was not the first Olympic medal for Ms Phanipak who had previously taken bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But this was the first Gold, not only for her but also for Taekwondo as a sport in Thailand.
Flight from Singapore arrived at 9.25 am, met by a cabinet minister and Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew who presented her with a royal bouquet
The flight carrying Thailand’s new golden girl, Singapore Airlines Flight SQ0726, touched down in Phuket at 9.25 am. Ms Phanipak also known as ‘Nong Tennis’ and her party had travelled from Tokyo via Singapore to Thailand.
When she came off the plane at the airport, she was greeted by dignitaries including the Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew, the Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn who presented her with a bouquet from Her Royal Highness, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, the daughter of the Thai King who is also a dedicated sports person.
All passengers on the plane including Ms Phanipak, her coach and the Taekwondo team were administered the COVID-19 PCR test under the Phuket Sandbox protocol before receiving such a warm welcome.
First paid her respects by bowing low at her father’s feet in a traditional Thai act of respect for her parent
The Gold medalist first bowed and solemnly paid her respects to her father Mr Sirichai Wongpattanakit at the airport. She bowed low at his feet in a traditional Thai act which involves showing both respect and obeisance to key elders and parents.
Mr Sirachai said his daughter had competed for Thailand and that her victory was one for all the Thai people.
He expressed his satisfaction that the victory has brought such hope to Thai people nationwide at this particular time.
Minister said that the athlete and her team deserved a holiday rather than being placed in quarantine
The Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr Phiphat, said that a decision had been made to invite Ms Phanipak and her teammates to Phuket so that they might relax and enjoy a two week holiday rather than being stuck in a hotel room for the mandatory 14 days quarantine on their return.
The winning athlete spoke enthusiastically about the prospect and said she was looking forward to enjoying a range of dishes and cuisine including fish and beef specialities on the island as well as cake and other treats over the next few days.
Aiming for the Paris Olympics in three years time
She also had her sights set on the next Olympic Games, now only three years off, in 2024 which will be held in Paris.
‘As for the future, I will take it step by step. I want to do my best in every arena assigned to me. As for the next Games in Paris, I want to be there again if I am perfectly healthy,’ she said.
She was also buoyed by the announcement by the Governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand, Kongsak Yodmaee, of the generous cash award to the twenty-three-year-old.
He said that she could choose to have the full ฿10 million now or ฿12 million in instalments over a period of time.
Good news for Coach Che from the Ministry of the Interior as his naturalisation application is expedited
The win in Tokyo also brought good news for Coach Che, who, it is understood, was having some difficulties processing his application to become a Thai citizen under the 1965 Nationality Act which involves a lot of paperwork and had been complicated by delays caused by the pandemic.
A top official for the Ministry of the Interior, over the weekend, gave an assurance that the application would now be expedited as a priority due to the success of the Taekwondo team and its achievements in Tokyo.
Mr Thanakom Chongjira, the Director-General of the Department of Provincial Administration, said that the government agency was just awaiting some information from the Thai Taekwondo Sports Association to finalise the matter.
He suggested that there would be no problem.
The law offers an opportunity for a limited number of foreign citizens each year to take on Thai nationality once they have worked in the kingdom for over 3 years paying taxes, have a clean record, have demonstrated a contribution to Thai society and meet a minimum salary requirement of ฿8,000 per month.