Payao Poontarat: Thailand’s First Olympic Medalist Boxer

Payao Poontarat, a Thai boxer, etched his name in history as the first athlete from Thailand to win an Olympic medal. At the tender age of 18, he secured a bronze medal in the men’s light flyweight category at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Born on October 18, 1956, in the village of Bang Sapan, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Payao hailed from a humble background. As a child, he sold flowers in the resort city of Pattaya to support his younger siblings. Like many underprivileged boys in Thailand, he took up Muay Thai, the traditional Thai boxing discipline, and showcased exceptional talent under the ring name “Petchpayao Sitkrutat.”

Payao’s transition to international boxing paved the way for his Olympic debut in 1976. Despite finishing with a bronze medal, his achievement was remarkable as he defeated the 1972 Olympic gold medalist, György Gedó, in the quarterfinals. Determined to reach greater heights, Payao trained rigorously for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but his dreams were shattered when Thailand joined the boycott.

After his amateur success, Payao turned professional in 1981. His journey in the professional ranks was initially challenging, but a pivotal moment came when Thai sports developer Sahasombhop Srisomvongse became his manager. In 1984, Payao defeated Guty Espadas of Mexico to claim the WBC super flyweight title, solidifying his place among the elite boxers of his era.

However, Payao’s reign as a world champion was short-lived. In 1985, he lost the title to Japan’s Jiro Watanabe and, after two more defeats, decided to retire from professional boxing.

Payao’s life took a different turn when he joined the Democrat Party and was elected as a member of parliament for his home province in 2001. Tragically, in 2002, he began suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating neurodegenerative disease. After a courageous battle, Payao passed away on August 13, 2006, at the age of 49, at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok.

Payao Poontarat’s legacy extends beyond his achievements in the ring. He inspired generations of Thai athletes and served as a symbol of determination, resilience, and national pride. His journey from humble beginnings to becoming an Olympic medalist and world champion boxer remains an enduring testament to the power of perseverance and the indomitable human spirit.


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