Victory on Friday 19th March in the women’s singles event at the 2020 Asian Olympic Games Qualification Tournament in Doha, meant for Orawan Paranang a ticket to Tokyo had been booked; a debut in the most celebrated multi-sport event on planet earth awaited.
In a group organised event, the 23 year old left hander remained unbeaten; she finished ahead of Jannah Romero and Rose Jean Fadol of the Philippines with Indonesia’s Siti Aminah in fourth place.
Moreover, it meant that for only the second time since table tennis entered the Olympic arena in 1992 in Seoul, Thailand had two representatives in the women’s singles event.
Two days earlier on Wednesday 17th March, in the concluding match at the 2020 World Qualification Tournament, held in the same premises, the Ali Bin Hamad Al Attiya Arena, 26 year old Suthasini Sawettabut had beaten Portugal’s Maria Xiao (13-11, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8) to secure her place.
The only prior occasion when Thailand had fielded two women’s singles players at an Olympic Games was in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the occasion when Suthasini Sawettabut made her debut and Nanthana Komwong competed for the fifth consecutive time.
Both acquitted themselves most admirably in the Brazilian city; Suthasini Sawettabut beat Congo Brazzaville’s Han Xing (11-9, 10-12, 7-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-7, 11-9), prior to losing to Li Jiao of the Netherlands (12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-5).
However, as it was ever since her debut in Sydney in 2000, it was on Nanthana Komwong that eyes focused; for the second time in her career, she progressed to the women’s singles third round.
In Rio she beat Egypt’s Dina Meshref (7-11, 13-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-9) and Portugal’s Fu Yu (14-16, 8-11, 12-10, 11-8, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8), before losing to Germany’s Han Ying (11-2, 11-4, 11-4, 11-3).
The end of the road when facing defensive skills, earlier in 2004 in Athens, it had been the same scenario. She accounted for India’s Mouma Das (11-6, 11-7, 11-3, 12-10) and Germany’s Nicole Struse (11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-7, 13-11), before Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus ended adventures (11-4, 11-6, 9-11, 11-3, 7-11, 11-1).
Overall, in women’s singles events at the Olympic Games, Nanthana Komwong very much held her own; overall she played 12 matches, won six, lost six.
Additional to Rio de Janeiro and Athens, on her first appearance in Sydney in 2000, one month after her 20th birthday, she experienced group stage defeats at the hands of Canada’s Geng Lijuan (21-12, 21-10, 21-13) and Australia’s Shirley Zhou (15-21, 21-18, 21-17, 21-19).
Later in 2008 in Beijing, she beat the Dominican Republic’s Li Qian (7-11, 11-5, 11-6, 11-6) prior to experiencing defeat when facing Japan’s Haruna Fukuoka (11-9, 11-7, 11-9, 11-5).
Similarly, in London four years later, it was parity. She accounted for Portugal’s Huang Mendes (4-11, 3-11, 11-6, 12-14, 11-8, 11-2, 12-10), before losing to the Czech Republic’s Iveta Vacenovska (14-16, 11-6, 11-4, 11-5, 11-3).
Alongside Nanthana Komwong, Suthasini Sawettabut and Orawan Paranang are the only female table tennis players from Thailand ever to compete in the Olympic Games; they will play with pride in Tokyo but perhaps with an extra pride.
Following a short illness, Piradej Pruttipruk, President of the Table Tennis Association of Thailand, died on Sunday 1st November; always he gave his players total support, always he watched their efforts with delight. Physically he will not be present in Tokyo, spiritually he will be there.
Editor: Ian Marshall