BEIJING GOLD MEDALLIST
Olympic heroine returns, but no party
KITTIPONG THONGSOMBAT & SUBIN KHUENKAEW
Olympic weightlifting gold medallist Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon was given a very warm welcome when she returned home yesterday, but all the functions to celebrate her victory were suddenly put on hold until Aug 25.
Grand processions from the Chiang Mai airport and a red carpet reception at a hotel in the province were cancelled last night after Prapawadee, who is better known by her nickname of Nong Kae, and her team-mates were whisked away from the airport shortly after their plane from Bangkok touched down, leaving a large crowd at the airport dumbfounded.
They had gathered to welcome the 24-year-old, who won a gold medal in the women's 53kg weightlifting division in Beijing.
Speculation was rife that Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association (Tawa) president Bussaba Yodbangtoey and her husband Maj-Gen Intharat, the association's chief adviser, wanted to protect her from media attention.
Prapawadee spent a few hours in Bangkok yesterday afternoon after flying in from Beijing and was then flown to Chiang Mai, the training base for Thai weightlifters and the stronghold of Maj-Gen Intharat, a deputy leader of the Matchimathipataya party.
Bussaba said in Chiang Mai yesterday Prapawadee could not attend the reception because she was exhausted and needed to rest. She also denied suggestions the Tawa bosses were overprotective of the gold medallist.
She said Prapawadee would appear on TV on Aug 18 on two news shows.
At Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday, hundreds of journalists and fans, mostly from her hometown Nakhon Sawan, greeted their Olympic heroine.
"Thank you for all your support," said a tired but smiling Prapawadee to her supporters, mostly students who waited for her outdoors on a very hot day at Suvarnabhumi airport.
"I am happy and proud to have made the Thai people happy."
Among the supporters were her parents and younger brothers and sisters who went to greet her on the plane. Her slightly overwhelmed parents, Chankaew and Phawadee, posed for the cameramen. Chankaew did better than his wife, who reportedly fainted minutes before seeing her beloved daughter.
Prapawadee will not accept any invitations from TV shows or sponsors until all the Thai squad have returned.
"I am sorry for not being able to take up your invitations,"she said. "Hopefully, all of you will understand. Some Thai competitors are still vying for glory in the Beijing Games. It is better to wait and celebrate together," she added.
Prapawadee will reportedly get an estimated 20 million baht from the public and private sectors.