Sweet success for Thai tyro

Updated: 2015-05-15 08:09

By Sun Xiaochen in Dongguan, Guangdong(China Daily)

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Dreams are sometimes hatched in the most unlikely places, such as the backyard of a candy factory on the northern outskirts of Bangkok 14 years ago.

Attached to a sweets factory named the House of Golden Teardrops, the then shabby badminton court looked nothing like an incubator for elite badminton stars but that is where the youngest singles world champion, Ratchanok Intanon, fought her way from obscurity to stardom.

Ratchanok, who became the pride of Thailand after stunning China's world No 1, Li Xuerui, to win the 2013 worlds at 18, will never forget where it all started.

"I am really excited to make history for Thailand in badminton and to bring glory back to the badminton school where I train," the 20-year-old told China Daily during the Sudirman Cup world mixed team championships in Dongguan, Guangdong province.

"Now there are more youngsters practicing badminton at the school, partially inspired by my result ... and I feel honored to be able to do that."

Thanks to Ratchanok's influence and factory owner Kamala Thongkorn's foresight, that single court has now morphed into the 18-court Banthongyord Badminton School with a Badminton World Federation standard curriculum. It is now serving as a breeding ground for young Thais to help them join their compatriots on the international stage.

Running around the cooking oven for fun as her parents worked away in the factory, Ratchanok was taken to the court by Kamala at age six to avoid getting scalded by the boiling water.

Her game started to develop under the guidance of Chinese coach Xie Zhihua, who moved to Thailand in 1992, and bore fruit when she won the BWF World Junior Championships in 2009 at 14.

Ratchanok moved on to win two more junior worlds in a row to become the first athlete to do so, and further boosted her confidence against Chinese players by claiming the Asian Championships over Li, again in Wuhan, Hubei province, last month.

"She was born to a poor family so she could bear a heavy workload in training. That makes her successful, coupled with her natural talent," said Xie, who used to be Chinese head coach Li Yongbo's sparring partner in the 1980s.

Still, Ratchanok said she has more to prove at the highest level.

"I feel confident facing any Chinese athlete. My goal is to win a medal at next year's Olympics (in Rio de Janeiro) no matter what color it is," she said.

Ratchanok's progress has also earned compliments from her opponents.

"I think she's improved a lot compared to last year. I think she is ready for the Olympic season. Her rivalry against the Chinese girls is interesting to watch because it's on such a high level," said German veteran Karin Schnaase, who lost to Ratchanok in the singles of a group tie in Dongguan.

Apart from her internal motivation, making money to improve her family members' lives is another strong motivation for Ratchanok as her parents remain living in a sprawling suburb of Bangkok even though their daughter is now a celebrity and has even met the country's prime minister.

"If I win the Olympic gold medal, the government will award me an apartment downtown so my parents can have a better place to live," she said with a grin.


Sweet success for Thai tyro

(China Daily 05/15/2015 page20)