Wanida strikes gold, after three silvers
After three silvers, Thai high jumper finally makes a breakthrough
For a long time now, she has known about the bitter taste of defeat.
In three successive SEA Games high jump finals, Thailand's Wanida Boonwan returned home as a bridesmaid, failing to emerge as the champion high jumper.
This time she was determined to win gold here, and after clearing a height of 1.85m at the National Stadium yesterday, Wanida was no longer just a runner-up.
A shy but delighted Wanida told The New Paper: "I wasn't nervous at all, I knew I could win and I came in expecting it of myself."
Her journey to victory was not entirely smooth in the final stretch.
At the 1.83m mark, her only rival left standing, Pham Thi Diem from Vietnam, cleared the height with ease in just one attempt, while the Thai failed twice.
For a moment, it looked as though Wanida would have to settle for silver, again.
In her final attempt, the Thai took a longer run up than usual and successfully went over to raise a fuss among the group of Thais in the stands.
With her morale boosted, Wanida easily conquered the 1.85m height for gold, while Pham failed.
The Vietnamese jumper had to settle for silver (1.83), while Singapore's Michelle Sng took the bronze (1.81).
Going into the competition, the Thai had a joint-highest personal best of 1.92m with Vietnam's Duong Thi Viet Anh, the 2013 and 2011 gold medallist.
Yet she was not upset about failing to overcome the 1.90m barrier.
"I'm not sad that I didn't clear 1.90m today. The goal was to finally win the gold and I'm really happy to have won my first one today," she said.
She will be eyeing a second Olympic appearance in Rio de Janeiro next year, but the Thai will need to set a new personal best to make the qualifying mark of 1.94m.
"I really hope I can qualify (for the Olympics). I know my results are not good enough yet, but I will try my best," said Wanida.
Another podium finisher who was pleased with her performance was the home favourite, Sng.
When she was presented the bronze on the podium, the crowd cheered loudly and her eyes seemed to fill with tears of joy as she raised the Singapore flag with pride.
MORE TO COME
The 28-year-old had gone into the Games hoping to better her own national record of 1.84 that she set in March this year at the Philippine National Open-Invitational Athletics Championships.
Despite failing to deliver, the primary school teacher ranked her performance a high eight out of 10.
She said: "I'm really happy I managed to have a podium finish. All three of the girls (Boonwan, Pham and Duong) are 1.90m jumpers, so it was a very tough field.
"But anything can happen on the day, so I tried to keep the faith and I'm happy with this result.
"Unfortunately, I didn't manage to do it (break the national record) today, but you'll definitely see national records from me coming your way."