With one jump, 17yearold Supanara Suksawasti Na Ayutaya (conveniently shortened to S.N.A. on the start lists!) achieved more than what his country has ever achieved in the 61-year history of his National Athletics Federation.
When Supanara landed to a new personal best 7.65 in the second round of the Boys’ Long Jump final here in Brixen/Bressanone he became Thailand’s first ever finalist, medallist and champion in an athletics global event of any age category.
24 hours to get here
“I am really happy,” he reportedly said to his team leader following his breakthrough performance. “Coach, I don’t know how I can explain how much happiness I feel.”
Ekkawit Sawangphol, Thailand’s team leader and head coach for Long Jump at the National Federation can hardly conceal his pride when asked about the background of the sole representative of his country at these World Youth Championships.
“There’s just me and him here,” Sawangphol explains. “We travelled 24 hours to get here.”
Italy is the second country Supanara has visited for his athletics competitions, his first ever trip abroad being to Vietnam for last month’s Under-18 South East Asian Championships where he didn’t win but had to be content with a second place finish.
Little hope for gold
“After seeing the rankings for this competition, we thought we had high chances of maybe a medal,” Sawangphol reveals. “Gold? Well yes you always keep a little hope for the gold medal,” he smiles broadly.
“We talked a lot before the final.” Supanara had only needed one jump to meet the qualification standards and had a lot left in his tank.
“I just told him to go out there and compete as if he was training at home. And actually it really feels like we are at home here in Bressanone because everyone is so friendly and helpful.”
It was a tactic that obviously paid off for the Thai pair as Supanara opened with a safe 7.18 before his gold medal winning effort 7.65 which he backed up with 7.63 in the third round, an effort which would also have won him the gold medal.
With the skies opening to tremendous thunderstorms and heavy downpour with two rounds of jumps to go no-one was able to match Supanara’s mark and the 17-year-old could eventually pass his last jump and celebrate his immense joy.
Descendent of the Royal family
Supanara’s background is fascinating. A descendant of King Rama IV – “he is the fifth generation” – Supanara hails from the Chiangmai Province, a beautiful tourist area in the North of the country.
“Two years ago his teacher brought him to our Association in Bangkok,” recalls Sawangphol. “He told us ‘this kid has talent.’ When he came he jumped 5.80. So after one month, we took him on and he now lives with us in Bangkok over 700 kilometres from home.
“We have over 100 athletes in our training camp aged 15 all the way through to the senior level. We have a good training programme but no, he doesn’t train every day.”
Supanara was one of the first athletes to approach IAAF Ambassador Mike Powell during the IAAF Masterclass which the Long Jump World record holder led together with four other IAAF Ambassadors.
“Oh he was very proud when he met Powell,” the coach explains. “In fact, he has Powell record’s video clip on his computer and he watches it all the time.”
Meeting Powell “was my dream,” Supanara said. “One day I will be like him!”
Supanara may have a few years ahead of him before he reaches Powell’s level, the new World Youth champion has already written his own page in the history of athletics and will always be remembered as Thailand’s first ever World champion.
IAAF Development Programme pays off
“This makes us extremely proud,” Sawangphol said. “And I have to thank the IAAF for his development too, I have to thank their education programme, the Coaches Education and Certification System.”
Sawangphol is an IAAF CECS Level II Lecturer and Level IV coach. “We have 672 level I coaches in Thailand and we are very proud of this.”
“Today we have had our first finalist, first medallist and first champion. It’s historical for us!”
But before Sawangphol and Supanara can enjoy their well deserved 24-hour journey back home and turn their attention to the South East Asian School championships which will be held on home turf in Bangkok, they have another chapter to write here in Bressanone.
Indeed Supanara jumped a new personal best 15.54 to lead the qualifiers for the Boys’ Triple Jump final which will be held on Saturday evening and it could well be that Thailand double their number of finalists, medallists and why not champions in less than 48 hours!
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF