By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) – Thailand’s sepaktakraw players will have little room for error at the Asian Games in Indonesia if the nation are to improve on the 12 overall gold medals they won at the last edition of the multi-sport event at Incheon in 2014.
Thailand finished sixth in the medals table in South Korea with 12 gold, seven silver and 28 bronze. Sepaktakraw, native to Southeast Asia, accounted for four gold medals for the Thais.
The Sports Authority of Thailand has said they expect the athletes to return home from the Aug 18-Sept. 2 Games in Jakarta and Palembang with about 17 gold medals, with sepaktakraw topping the gold medal expectations with four.
Thailand has claimed 22 out of 33 Asian Games gold medals awarded in the sport and have finished as the best nation in each of the last five editions of the continental gathering.
“We’re confident of an overall medal from the three-men team. For the two-men team, we must get the medal, because this is the first time we take part in the category,” men’s team head coach Kamon Tankimhong told Reuters last week.
There will be six gold medals on offer in sepaktakraw – four for men and two for women.
The Thai men’s team comprises 15 players for sepaktakraw, which sees players twist and turn their bodies in mid-air to send a rattan ball into the opposing court using any part of their bodies except hands and arms.
Women’s head coach Veerat Na Nongkai said the 12-member women’s team were fully ready for the quadrant and team regu events.
Golf and weightlifting have been predicted to bring two golds each while Thai boxers are hoping to punch above their expectations and win multiple golds.
“Boxing in Asia is one of the toughest in the world. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China and India all have powerful boxers in the world,” Thailand Boxing Association technical committee president Somchai Poolsavasdi said.
“So I keep telling my boxers ‘you need to win the Asian Games first if you want to win the Olympics’”.
While there are medal targets, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has asked the athletes to also enjoy themselves in Indonesia while reminding them that they will also be their country’s representatives at the continental showpiece.
“Sports are used to build good relations at the global level, just like the North and South Korean nations,” he told the athletes at a gathering this month.
“You should enjoy the experience and at the same time make friends during the Games.
“We always give priority to the medals but we should not forget to take this opportunity to build good friendships.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)