Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Prapawadee is all smiles


Prapawadee is all smiles

Athens heartbreak trumped by glory


Thailand's newest Olympic winner said she hoped her gold medal would give Thais an opportunity to smile and she certainly has accomplished that. There have been smiles throughout the country since yesterday afternoon when she won a very convincing victory.

As this story will explain, Prapawadee's career has seen as many tears as it has smiles. In fact, it looked like her weightlifting days would be over more than once. Fortunately, the bad days are over and her future looks very bright.

Weightlifter Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon exorcised the ghosts of 2004 for good by winning the 53kg gold in Beijing yesterday.

Four years ago, rising star Prapawadee, then Junpim Kantatian, quit weightlifting after she was not picked for the 2004 Olympic squad.

The Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association (Tawa) selected experienced Udomporn Polsak to compete in the 53kg class in Athens ahead of Junpim.

Having set two junior world records and equalled a third on her way to a three-gold haul at the World Junior Championships in Mexico in 2003, the up-and-coming star believed she was good enough for the biggest stage.

It was a huge blow for Junpim, who could not accept the decision although Udomporn went on to become Thailand's first weightlifter and first female athlete to win an Olympic gold with her triumph in the 53kg division. Prapawadee left the Chiang Mai camp and did not train for almost one year. "I could not take it, and I almost became insane and cried a lot," said Prapawadee. "I wanted to quit weightlifting."

Fortunately for Prapawadee and her country, Bussaba Yodbangtoey, now Tawa president, explained to her why she was not included in the 2004 squad and successfully persuaded her to return.

"I told her that nobody gets everything in life and [that] disappointment will make you stronger in the future," Bussaba recalled. The rest is history as Prapawadee, now 24, followed in the footsteps of Udomporn (who retired after the Athens glory). Prapawadee won three golds at the World University Weightlifting Championships in Turkey in 2005 before claiming a silver at the Doha Asian Games in 2006.

She also won a gold at the 2006 World Championships, also in Doha, Qatar. She was a former junior world champion and took a gold at the 2007 Asian Championships.

To improve her fortunes, Junpim Kantatian changed her name to Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon last year because a nun believed that the former name was not auspicious.

"The nun told me that the name was not good and I would not reach the stars with that name," Prapawadee said after her Beijing triumph.

Superstitiously, Bussaba said before the Games that a fortune-teller believed Prapawadee had the brightest star among the Thai lifters.

Moreover, her bib number on the competition day was "8", an auspicious Chinese number. Until yesterday, the name change had brought her mixed fortunes. She won the gold in the snatch at the 2007 Asian Championships but then sustained a career-threatening elbow injury at the World Championships, which were held in Chiang Mai.

She left the venue on a stretcher and did not know whether she would be able to compete again.

However, she recovered after three months and made a comeback just in time for the Beijing Games.

She received a major boost at the National Championships in May when she beat the world record with a lift of 130kg.

Her record did not count officially but she did set a new Olympic clean-and-jerk record of 126kg in her gold-medal winning in the Chinese capital.

In Beijing, she won the gold with lifts of 95kg in the snatch and 126kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 221kg. Her closest rivals silver medallist Yoon Jinhee of South Korea (94-119) and bronze winner Nastassia Novikava of Belarus (95-118). Both could only manage totals of 213kg.

Udomporn said she had heard a lot about Prapawadee's skill and dedication in training. She advised that Prapawadee should keep her emotions in check and stay focused. "If she can do that, the gold is within her reach," Udomporn said. Prapawadee did stay focused and grabbed the gold.

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