Thailand's women's badminton players, Sapsiree Taerattanachai (left), Ratchanok Intanon (middle) and Nitchaon Jindapol, had a glorious run in the team event before falling to China in the final on Monday. Lu Hanxin / Xinhua
Southeast asian nation emerging as a regional powerhouse
Guangzhou - Until recently, Thailand was always a peripheral player in an Asian badminton community long dominated by traditional powerhouses China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea.
But now the kingdom well known for Thai boxing and sepak takraw has shown its willingness to take on the big boys by pulling off stunning upsets in the men's and women's team competitions at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
Thailand's women's team, which finished seventh in Doha four years ago, upset second and third seeds Japan and Indonesia en route to Monday's final.
The Thais failed to topple China, but impressed all rivals with their strong showing.
On the men's side, Boonsak Ponsana, singles semifinalist at the 2004 Olympic Games, led his team to the bronze medal after downing world No 1 Lee Chong Wei in the opener of the teams quarterfinals against Malaysia.
"In the past, we couldn't beat Malaysia on the men's side and our women's team couldn't beat Japan and Indonesia - but now we can," Charoen Wattanasin, president of the Badminton Association of Thailand, told China Daily.
"But this is not a surprise for me. We have planned (for it). Thailand has made a lot of progress in badminton and we have very good young players."
Forty-four years ago, Wattanasin, a two-time singles runner-up at the All-England Championships in the early 1960s, led Thailand to its only Asiad badminton championship by winning the men's team title on home soil.
Thailand also finished in the top four at five Thomas Cup championships between1958-76.
In Monday's final at Tianhe Gymnasium, Thailand benched its top two women's singles players, Worlds quarterfinalist Salakjit Ponsana and P. Buranaprasertsuk.
Instead, the Thais sent an under-20 contingent - including 15-year-old Ratchanok Intanon - to play the opener against China's 25-year-old Wang Xin.
The teenager gave the world No 1 a real challenge, winning the first game and holding the lead until the middle game of the third before losing 20-22, 21-17, 21-14.
Last year, Intanon became the first Thai badminton player to win a world title by claiming the singles title at the World Junior Championships and also the youngest to accomplish that feat, at age 14. She then defended the championship in August.
Thais also claimed the men's and women's singles titles at August's Youth Olympics in Singapore, through Pisit Poodchalat and Sapsiree Taerattanachai respectively.
"Thai players have improved a lot in the past few years, especially in women's singles. They have shown great ability and potential here," said China's head coach, Li Yongbo.
"They also put the younger generation through such major tournaments. That will help them grow faster."
Inspired by the success in the team event, the Thai chief is now expecting more good news from the upcoming singles and doubles competitions in Guangzhou.
"I'm very satisfied with the team result. Now I'm looking forward to the other five events. I'm looking forward to an even better result," Wattanasin said.
(China Daily 11/16/2010)