Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gold and silver for Thai boxers in Beijing

Gold and silver for Thai boxers in Beijing

Somjit takes Olympic title in the final fight of his career, while Manus misses out on becoming the country's first two-time champion

By Wanchai Rujawongsanti

Somjit Jongjohor landed the biggest prize in the final fight of his career, but Manus Boonjumnong failed to become Thailand's first two-time Olympic champion when both fighters contested the boxing finals in Beijing last night.

Flyweight Somjit fulfilled his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal by thrashing Cuba's Andris Laffita Hernandez 8-2, while defending light-welterweight champion Manus was hammered 12-4 by Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic.

With the 29th Olympiad ending today, Thailand finished its Beijing campaign with two gold and two silver medals.

The other medallists for Thailand were weightlifting champion Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon and taekwondo silver medallist Buttree Puedpong.

At the Workers' Gymnasium last night, Somjit was expected to face his toughest opponent in Beijing in the 51kg final, but it turned out to be one of the easiest fights in the 33-year-old's career.

Using his reach advantage to the maximum, Somjit had a light workout against Hernandez and went 2-0 ahead in the opening round. He almost hit his target at will and built a 6-0 lead at the halfway stage.

The Cuban ran out of steam and saw himself fall 8-1 behind after three rounds. Somjit then danced around in the fourth and final round to win 8-2.

He held a picture of His Majesty the King above his head as he paraded around the ring after his victory.

"I waited patiently for this for 12 years and I finally did it," said Somjit, who burst into tears after winning the most prestigious title of his career.

"Had I not been patient, I would have been an average boxer. I would like to thank everybody who gave me moral support."

The boxer from Buri Ram said he fought to his game plan by using his reach advantage to fend off Hernandez's challenge, and his tactics frustrated his opponent.

"I was confident that I was going to win after the first round," Somjit said. "He did not have jabs and only tried to land a big left hand."

Somjit will receive government and corporate bonuses in the region of 20 million baht.

He said he would save part of it for his family and would also try to help society.

He has bought sports equipment for rural schools and given scholarships to poor students for the past four years and will continue doing so.

He announced his retirement after 12 years of amateur boxing and will pursue a career in coaching.

He said he believed he could do well in his new job as he had worked with several great coaches, including Cuba's Juan Fontanils.

Somjit again saved the face of Thai boxing as the sole winner in a major tournament after Manus failed to win his second Olympic gold.

Somjit was the only Thai champion at the 2003 World Championships in Bangkok and was also the only Thai boxer to win gold at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.

In the 64kg final, Manus was the heavy favourite against the unfancied Diaz, but it was Diaz who proved to be much stronger than the Thai, who was hit with a big combination of punches and was knocked down once.

The Ratchaburi star beat formidable opponents in world champion Serik Sapiyev of Kazakhstan in the quarter-finals and Cuba's Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo in the semi-finals, but ran out of steam in the gold medal bout.

The 28-year-old Thai scored the first point of the fight, but Diaz rallied to lead 2-1 after the first round, and it was all square at 2-2 at the halfway mark.

But Manus saw the writing on the wall in the third round when Diaz threw everything at him to romp to a 10-3 lead as the Thai received an eight count late in the round.

Because Manus is not a puncher, he could not do much in the final round and lost 12-4. It was the Dominican Republic's first gold medal ever in the boxing ring.

"I apologise to everybody for my failure," Manus said after one of the worst defeats of his career.

Manus complained that he should have scored several more points in the first round and said his opponent scored points even when he did not land good shots. "I felt discouraged that I did not get the points when I deserved them," he said.

However, he said he was happy with his Olympic campaign and he considered reaching the final to be a success as he was handed a tough draw.

Although he failed to become Thailand's first two-time Olympic champion, he made history by being the first Thai to have won more than one Olympic medal.

"I am happy to make history for Thailand by winning two Olympic medals," said Manus.

Manus blew millions of baht in bonuses on partying and gambling after winning his Athens gold medal. This silver medal will still earn him millions of baht in bonuses from the government and private companies.

He has repeatedly said he is a changed man. After his loss, he vowed not to become a playboy again and said he plans to use the bonuses to build a block of apartments for rent.

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