Local sailors hit the medal trail at 27th SEA Games

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Ngwe Saung, Myanmar – Pattaya’s windsurfers dominated the sailing event at the 27th Southeast Asian Games – Myanmar 2013 (SEA Games) – which saw Thailand win four gold, five silver, and two bronze medals in a week long sailing competition in mid-December marked by unpredictable wind (when there was wind) and some very suspenseful medal races.

Considered the most important regatta for Thai sailors this year, the biennial SEA Games opened with six Southeast Asian countries represented in 13 sailing events, each sailor beaming with pride to have made their national team, anticipation in the air as well as a palatable sense of hunger for gold among the top sailors who had trained intensely for months for this regatta.

The Thai Optimist team - gold medalists at the SEA Games in Myanmar.The Thai Optimist team – gold medalists at the SEA Games in Myanmar.

Thai sailors were confident of doing well after ten days of pre-event practice at the venue, which would usually have proved a huge advantage in competition, but conditions changed dramatically and suddenly just as the regatta began.  After training in light winds averaging 8 knots, they arrived on the first day of racing to find high winds of 15 knots gusting to 20 with very large, choppy waves.  The next day and for the rest of the week, a new northerly cold wind proved fickle and fanciful, dancing on, off and around the course, frustrating sailors trying to spot wind shifts and gusts while avoiding windless spots moving around the course.

SEA Games Laser silver medalist Keerati Bualong (2nd left) and bronze winner  Kamolwan Chanyim (2nd right) are welcomed home by YRAT officials. (Photo/Saranya Ngarmdee)SEA Games Laser silver medalist Keerati Bualong (2nd left) and bronze winner  Kamolwan Chanyim (2nd right) are welcomed home by YRAT officials. (Photo/Saranya Ngarmdee)

Pattaya’s wondergirl Duangkamon Phongern proved adept at reading conditions, quickly putting her competition behind her by finishing first in ten races out of twelve in the RS:One Girl’s division.  Fellow windsurfer Nattaphong Phonppharat performed nearly as well, also confirming his gold early with seven first place finishes out of twelve in the RS:One Open division.

Kamolwan Chanyim had to settle for bronze this time in the Laser Radial class.Kamolwan Chanyim had to settle for bronze this time in the Laser Radial class.

RS:One Boy’s sailor Thanatip Suebyubon initially appeared to be following in their wake with a string of first place finishes, but on the second to last day, Myanmar’s Set Naing Aung stole the lead in three races in light to nonexistent winds, setting the stage for a final race that would decide who won gold.  Thanatip needed a first place finish to Myanmar’s third to retake gold, but instead finished second to Myanmar’s third, losing gold by one point.

Even more suspenseful was the battle for gold and silver waged throughout the week in the Laser fleet by Olympians and aspiring Olympians.

Defending gold from the 2011 SEA Games in the Laser Standard, the innately talented Keerati Bualong faced his toughest challenge to date in regional waters against fellow Olympian Khairulnizam Mohd Afendy of Malaysia whose months of rigorous coaching and high performance competition in Europe this past year paid off, despite Keerati’s repeated attempts to retake the lead.

In the Laser Radial, Kamolwan Chanyim entered the regatta more well prepared than ever before, thanks to sponsorship by Pattaya real estate developer Kingdom Property which has seen her able to participate in four major international events and two short high performance coaching programs this year.  Gold however went quickly to Singaporean Olympian Elizabeth Yin, an international circuit sailor currently ranked 31st in the world, with Malaysia’s Nur Amirah Hamid getting the upper hand on silver with some strategic game plans and lucky calls in the unpredictable wind, confirming the trade of her 2011 SEA Games bronze for Kamolwan’s silver on the second to last day.

The Thai Optimist team won all but one race out of seven in its one day match racing competition, proving ten months of training well worth the effort.

In the 470s Men’s class, Navee Thamsoont Orn and Nut Butmarasiri also secured gold for Thailand with an impressive 16 points to Singapore’s 25.

The event was staged at the purpose-built luxury Ngwe Saung Yacht Club & Marina in Ngwe Saung, a relatively undeveloped stretch of beautiful coastline six hours drive from Yangon.

Local windsurfer Duangkamon Phongern dominated the RS:One Girl’s division.Local windsurfer Duangkamon Phongern dominated the RS:One Girl’s division.

Nattaphong Phonppharat (left) with teammate Thanatip Suebyubon.Nattaphong Phonppharat (left) with teammate Thanatip Suebyubon.