Olympic training begins early for Pattaya sailors


While Rio 2016 feels years away, Thai sailors began serious training for the next Olympics this past month in Santander, Spain, where the first 50% of Olympic Sailing places will be awarded next year at the Santander 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championships (SWC).

This Cuidad de Santander Trophy, held from Sept. 9-15, offered aspiring Olympians the chance to become familiar with the conditions they will face in the first Olympic qualification round.  Representing Thailand at the regatta were Pattaya-based windsurfers, Siripon Kaewduang-ngam and two-time Olympian Ek Boonsawad, plus Sattahip’s two-time Laser Radial national champion Kamolwan ‘Bam’ Chanyim who aspires to be the first Thai woman to qualify for the Olympic sailing competition in her class.

Kamolwan ‘Bam’ Chanyim is all smiles at the Cuidad de Santander Trophy.Kamolwan ‘Bam’ Chanyim is all smiles at the Cuidad de Santander Trophy.

Siripon Kaewduang-ngam, 19, proved she is ready to fill the space previously held by three-time Thai Olympian Napalai Tansai.  She turned the heads of several of Olympians and top ranked female windsurfers as she finished in tenth position in the RS:X Women’s division, with five top ten results in the fleet of 23.

“I learned a lot from Napalai about sailing and techniques,” she said, “but conditions here are very different (than at the Perth 2011 ISAF SWC, where she sailed with Napalai).  In Perth, it was high winds.  In Santander, it was very cold with light wind, which I am good in, but, the shifty wind and swell were challenging.  The seaweed also slowed me down, but I am proud of my results.”

Ek Boonsawad, 24, placed 15th in the RS:X Men’s division, just short of his target.  On the final day of racing, however, he held his head high: “I couldn’t achieve my goal of finishing in the top 10,” he said, “but the final top ten included Olympic gold medalists and world champions.”

The RS:X men’s division, with 29 sailors, was indeed the most competitive in the Santander Trophy classes with 14 Olympians, including the 2012 gold and silver medalists, as well as the current world champion and five of the top ranked RS:X sailors in the world.

In the Laser Radial class, Kamolwan Chanyim, 17, finished 14th in a fleet of 23, with three top ten finishes including a fifth in her final race.  She spent more time in the classroom, gym and in television and newspaper interviews than on the water however, as she was a guest of the Spanish Federation of Sailing which invited her to Phase Two of the special ISAF Emerging Nations Program (ENP), her participation made possible by new sponsor Kingdom Property.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the ENP,” she said.  “I gained a lot of knowledge especially in sailing tactics and exercise.  In the strange conditions (light, shifty winds and unusual swells of one meter with wind-driven waves moving in the opposite direction), I realized I can’t sail here the way I learned in Thailand.”

The ENP provides high performance training for potential Olympians from smaller sailing nations, including medical and fitness tests, intensive instruction in physical fitness and sports psychology, and ongoing top level coaching.

The ENP’s Dr Carmen Vaz said Kamolwan was selected along with six other women from around the world for a multiple of reasons.

Sirpon Kaewduang-ngam (right) races in the RS:X Women’s division in Santander, Spain. (Photo courtesy Martinez Studio/Cuidad de Santander Trophy)Sirpon Kaewduang-ngam (right) races in the RS:X Women’s division in Santander, Spain. (Photo courtesy Martinez Studio/Cuidad de Santander Trophy)

“We had to be able to say ‘this girl can go somewhere’,” she said.  “The country was important because we want to see new nations qualify for the Olympics in each class.  (‘Bam’ would be the first Laser Radial sailor to qualify for Thailand.)  The sailor had to go to one of our training camps also, so our coaches could evaluate their sailing level, tactics and feeling for the sport.  (‘Bam’ was sent by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand to their camp in Indonesia in 2012.)  They also had to be physically fit and of the right body shape and size.  And they had to have the right attitude, to want to learn.  This is in fact the most important.”

Phase III of the ISAF Emerging Nations program will see those that the ENP team believes really can qualify for Rio 2016 invited to undergo further training in the lead up to Santander 2014 SWC.

The SWC is usually held in the year prior to the Olympics, but Santander 2014 will be staged two years in advance in part to encourage continued high performance training through the four year period between Olympics.