Don’t just dream, do it – Panipak “Tennis” Wongpattanakit
“In my childhood dreams, I never thought of being part of the Thai national team or winning a gold medal, because, when I was young, I was really skinny and tiny. But when I began playing the sport, and became part of the Thai national team, [winning a gold medal] was definitely my dream. I think it is what a lot of people dream about, to win an Olympic gold.”
Pride of the nation
Panipak Wongpattanakit became the pride of her country and an inspiration for countless people after she won Thailand’s first gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Her gold medal is only the 10th in Thailand’s entire Olympic history, where previous medals were earned either from boxing or weightlifting. Panipak also became the first Thai woman to win a gold medal for Taekwondo.
While the whole nation was celebrating her victory, the only Thai Olympic Gold Medalist this year rushed to her phone to call her father and other family members to spread the news.
“When I called them, I realised that many people were cheering for me. I was surprised and so happy at the same time that, that night, I was the happiness for all Thais.”
Panipak admits that, before the match, she was stressed and experienced a lot of pressure, as she felt that everyone was watching her.
“But when I talked to my team, the psychologist, the president of the Thai Taekwondo Association and my coaches, nobody pressured me at all. They told me not to worry about the future, and just to do my best. We will support each other, whether I win a medal or not.”
Panipak’s passion for Taekwondo began when she was nine years old, when she witnessed her brother practicing the sport. She also took on her father’s advice, that the Korean martial art can help her protect herself if she gets into dangerous situations.
However, her road to success was definitely a rough one.
Although she has won as many as 30 gold medals in various competitions, such as the World Taekwondo Championships, the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games, Panipak considered quitting the sport when she lost in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Panipak described her competition at the Rio Olympics as the most “devastating” and heart-breaking moment in her life. However, she still had to compete in another two rounds for the bronze medal.
“When I won the bronze medal back then, everyone thought it was a great achievement. But for me, it was a nightmare and it was a painful moment.”
She then informed her coach that she would quit Taekwondo, because she was “exhausted” and “discouraged” after the games, but it was also the same coach who cheered her up, saying that there are still many other matches in which she can prove herself.
After intense training, up until the Tokyo Olympics, she admits that she was tired throughout,until the day she had to compete in the finals.
“I told myself that, after all those times when I cried, or being in pain for months during the preparation, today is my only chance. I only have six minutes to compete, no matter how many seconds left I will give my all. Even if I fail, I won’t regret it because I did my best already. I will do my best until time is over.”
Reflecting on her journey, Panipak believes that she has gained more experience and became more mature. She said her training was tiring, difficult and discouraging, “I cried every day. Now that I have succeeded, I am very happy.”
Why can’t I do it?
Apart from the intense training, another challenge for Panipak was when people don’t believe that she would ever become an athlete, just because she does not have the typical physique of an athlete.
She said the best way for her to overcome such criticism is to believe in herself and that she can do it. She also gave huge credit to all of her coaches, who enhanced her potential to thepoint where she could overcome her limitations.
“I never realised I could run 10 kilometers or kick for 3-4 hours,” she said.
Next step for Taekwondo queen
When asked whether she will compete again in the 2024 Paris Olympics, Panipak said she’s unsure what the future holds for her. She will, however, continue to do her best every day.
“I will continue practicing, so that I can improve and win more medals for the Thai people.”
As for her next step in life, the Taekwondo queen has many other dreams she wants to pursue, such as travelling around the world, becoming a Youtuber and opening up a dog café, with a sports gym next to it.
Most importantly, she wishes to become a Taekwondo coach, to inspire the younger generation who want to become martial artists like her. Panipak said that she might start sharing some techniques through her social media accounts, such as TikTok, Facebook, or Youtube first, before teaching children in orphanages or in sports gyms.
“I want to spread positivity and gain positive energy from children as well, because I feel happy when I’m around children,” she said.
Don’t just dream, do it
Now, with many Thais, particularly the younger generation, being inspired by Panipak’s journey and wishing to follow their own dreams, she reminded people to always believe that you can and should just do it.
“No matter what size you are, big or small, always believe in yourself and do it. Don’t just dream, but do it. Do it first and don’t worry about the results. Don’t worry about the past or the future, focus on the present,” she said.
“Lastly I want to thank everyone for cheering for me and all the Thai athletes in the Tokyo Olympics. We received tremendous support from all of you. I’m still surprised and very grateful. I want to thank you all.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World