Thais aim to be No. 1 nation at SEA Games, again
Chef de mission Chaiprasit believes team can win more than 90 golds
While chef de mission Thana Chaiprasit emphasised the importance of fostering friendship between the 11 nations at this year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in Singapore, Thailand are still setting their sights on retaining top spot in the medal standings.
"We hope to be No. 1," the 61-year-old (photo) told The New Paper at the team's welcome ceremony yesterday at the Kallang Wave Mall.
The Thai contingent brought home 107 gold medals out of a total haul of 282 at the last SEA Games in 2013 in Myanmar, 49 more than the hosts, in second place.
This year, the Thais, armed with 800 athletes - along with 300 officials, the biggest contingent at this year's SEA Games - are aiming to win upwards of 90 gold medals, according to Chaiprasit, which will see the kingdom easily extend their dominance at the Games.
Out of the 36 sports that the Thais will be competing in, sepak takraw, football, boxing, athletics and swimming are the big ones Chaiprasit expects they will do well in.
The chef de mission also highlighted several star members of his contingent, including 29-year-old swimmer Natthanan Junkrajang.
She grabbed gold medals in the 100m and 200m freestyle and was part of the winning 4×100m freestyle relay team at the previous SEA Games.
Other athletes to look out for are sprinter Jirapong Meenapra, 22, and the Thai volleyball team, who are ranked 12th in the world and are the hot favourites for the tournament.
After recording two wins in their group matches, including a 6-0 drubbing of Laos, the Thai football team are also expected to defend their Under-23 title here.
Chaiprasit said: "Football is really popular in Thailand. All of Thailand hope that we get gold for football."
Despite Thailand's powerhouse status, Chaiprasit was keen to emphasise the softer aspects of the Games.
"We come here for the friendship and see our friends together in South-east Asia," he said.
He also praised the organisation of this year's Games.
"From when we arrived, the system set up for the transportation, for the hotel, for the hotel to the (competition) venue and back... I think the system is very good," Chaiprasit added.
"Our contingent and our officials are very happy being in Singapore."