Fourth individual gold for Thai veteran Nontapat
Lure of S'pore sees Thai veteran coming out of retirement to claim fourth individual title
He came out of retirement for one last hurrah, and Thailand fencer Nontapat Panchan achieved just that when he won his fourth individual South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medal at the OCBC Arena yesterday.
The 33-year-old saw off Vietnam's Nguyen Minh Quang 15-11 in the men's individual foil final to add to his previous triumphs in Vietnam (2003), Manila (2005) and Palembang in (2011).
It was Thailand's first gold of the 28th SEA Games.
Nontapat revealed he had already called time on his career, but the lure of winning one last time in Singapore proved too strong.
"I actually retired already but the idea of the SEA Games in Singapore, my second home, to come back and see all my friends, was a big part of why I came back," he told The New Paper.
"To end my SEA Games career here is very meaningful to me."
Nontapat's ties with Singapore go back almost a decade.
He coached at local club Blade Fencing from 2008 to 2011, mentoring a number of current Team Singapore athletes including 16-year-old Kevin Chan, whom he defeated 15-6 in the semi-finals.
He also coached the foil event to 15-year-old Ywen Lau, who won bronze in the women's sabre event yesterday (see story on Pg S15), before the United World College Dover student switched disciplines.
Nontapat had kind words for them.
"Kudos to the Singapore fencers," he said.
"The Singaporean boys in (the foil) event, (19-year-old) Joshua Lim and Kevin, have great futures ahead of them.
"Kevin comes up to KL quite often to train with me, he's like a little brother to me. Ywen... is like a little daughter to me."
The Thai, who speaks fluent English having studied in the United States, added that there would be no U-turn this time, and that he would not be competing in Malaysia in two years' time.
"My first SEA Games was in 2001, and I'm an old man already," he said, with a chuckle.
"I really hope the next time I'm at the SEA Games, I'll be on the podium too. But beside one of my students, who will be the one who wins."
Vietnam's fencers ruled the two other events contested yesterday.
Tran Thi Len beat Filipina Harlene Raguin 11-7 in the women's individual epee final, while Nguyen Thi Le Dung beat Thai Sirawalai Starrat 15-5 in the women's individual sabre final.
Both Vietnamese also emerged champions the last time fencing was at the SEA Games, in Palembang in 2011, and said their triumphs marked the end of their careers.
Tran, 27, said: "This SEA Games might be my last competition in my fencing career as I plan to have a child and settle down.
"If my gold medal is truly my last, then it is sort of a sweet full-circle end to my career because I first competed here in Singapore, and this is where I have played my last."
Nguyen, 29, won her fifth SEA Games gold, and said: "This year's SEA Games has been tough and it took a bit more effort from us to win the golds again."