Monday, August 25, 2008

Gold medal was fitting finale for family man


Dedicated Somjit set perfect example

Gold medal was fitting finale for family man


Euro2008 news update

BEIJING : Somjit Jongjohor has proved that a nice guy can finish first. A family man with strict discipline, Somjit saved the best for last. He fought brilliantly in the last bout of his career to finally win an Olympic gold medal on Saturday night.

He was expected to have a tough assignment against Cuba's Andris Laffita Hernandez in the flyweight final. They had met twice with each scoring a narrow win. But it was different in Beijing as Somjit comfortably beat Hernandez 8-2 to complete his collection of gold medals from the Olympics, the World Championships and the Asian Games.

''I did it after a 12-year wait,'' said Somjit who began his amateur boxing career 12 years ago. ''If I had not been patient, I would have been an average boxer.''

Dubbed a nice guy in Thai amateur boxing, Somjit, now 33, faced several heartbreaking moments before his most glorious day in Beijing.

''There were times when I felt discouraged and wanted to quit,'' the Buri Ram native said.

''But I continued fighting and my patience was finally paid off.''

In the first qualifying tournament for the 2000 Olympics, Somjit, as the Thai team's first choice in the flyweight division, failed to secure a ticket to Sydney. As a result, Wijarn Ponlid was given a chance in the next qualifying round.

Wijarn, who used to be a sparring boy in the Thai camp, defied all the odds to seal an Olympic berth and went on to win gold in Sydney.

Somjit got another chance for a shot at winning an Olympic medal in Athens four years ago. Fresh from his triumph at both the 2002 Asian Games and the 2003 World Championships, Somjit was seen as Thailand's best hope in boxing at the 2004 Olympics.

''At that time, I was younger and stronger,'' he said.

''It seemed that I had everything needed to win an Olympic medal. Expectations were high and I had to shoulder the burden.''

His campaign ended in pain in the round of 16 when he lost to Cuba's Yuriorkis Gamboa. He led by three points after three rounds only for Gamboa to rally in the final round to win by four points. The Cuban went on to win gold.

''I felt very discouraged and wanted to quit,'' said Somjit who wept for a long period after the heartbreaking defeat.

He saw his teammates _ light-welterweight Manus Boonjumnong (gold), bantamweight Worapoj Petchkoom (silver) and middleweight Suriya Prasathinphimai (bronze) _ return home to a tumultuous welcome and become millionaires.

As Somjit pondered his future, he was encouraged by his fans who said he was still good enough for another shot at an Olympic medal.

''It was a tonic so I gave myself another try,'' he said.

Before the 2008 Games, Somjit said he had learned a precious lesson from the Athens setback and tried to relax in every fight.

In the lead-up to the Beijing Games, Somjit came second in two major tournaments _ the 2006 Asian Games and the 2007 World Championships. At least that proved that he could still fight at the highest level.

Somjit knew that he needed a bit of luck to win an elusive Olympic medal. He got it when he was handed a favourable draw. His toughest opponent on his way to the final seemed to be world champion Raushee Warren of the US.

The hot favourite American, who beat the Thai in the final at the 2007 World Championships, was slated to meet Somjit in the semi-finals.

But Warren suffered a shock defeat against South Korea's Lee Oksung in his opening bout. Lee, who was the world champion in 2005, then lost in the next bout.

Somjit began his campaign with a comfortable 6-1 win over Eddie Valenzuela of Guatemala. He whipped Samir Mammadov of Azerbaijan 10-2 in the round of 16.

In one of the most important bouts of his career, Somjit scored a comfortable 8-1 victory over Anvar Yunusov of Tajikistan, who had lost to Somjit twice, to ensure that he would win at least a bronze.

He easily beat Vicenzo Picardi of Italy 7-1 in the semi-finals and completed his mission with a 8-2 win over Hernandez.

With Manus losing in the light-welterweight final, Somjit was Thailand's only boxing champion in Beijing. He also was the country's only champion at the 2003 World Amateur Boxing Championships and the only Thai boxer to win gold at the 2002 Asian Games.

Somjit also ensured that the Thai boxing team has punched down gold medal in every Games since Somluck Kamsing won the country's first-ever Olympic title in 1996.

Somjit will pursue a new career in coaching. He believes he can be successful in his new job having worked with several coaches including Cuba's Juan Fontanils who guided Somluck (1996), Wijarn (2000) and Manus (2004) to become Olympic champions.

He will also receive around 20 million baht from the government and corporate sector. He said he would save for his family and help society. He has bought sports equipment for schools and given scholarships to needy students for four years and will continue doing so.

What he wants most at the moment is a daughter as he only has a son named Kampan (fist). He said he would have more time with his family and probably a daughter would come soon.

She might be named Thong (gold) or Beijing to remind Somjit of the biggest prize of his career or the place where he won his Olympic title.

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