'Hello Kitty' a winner of three golds

Kewalin Wannaruemon lit up the National Stadium track with her wins as well as her winning personality - shown by the Hello Kitty and yellow eyeshades she wore for her races.

The 21-year-old Thai, who was born blind, stormed to a clean sweep of the T11 100m, 200m and 400m titles at the ASEAN Para Games (APG).

Kewalin competes under the T11 category, the most severe class for the visually impaired. Runners can opt to run with a guide, but they must wear eyeshades to ensure fairness.

While other runners opt for plain and dull-coloured ones, Kewalin's eye-catching choice made her a crowd-pleaser.

She broke the Games' record twice - in the 400m race on Tuesday and 200m yesterday, but the eyeshades garnered as much attention as her sparkling performances on the track.

While asking her guide runner to reveal from her bag the three eyeshades that she had brought to Singapore, Kewalin said with a shy grin: "Hello Kitty is my favourite and I love it. I think they (the eyeshades) reveal my character.

"I felt very excited in these ASEAN Para Games, I did my best, never expected to win all three gold medals. It was a good competition for me."

Joining her as triple gold medallists are team-mates Saichon Konjen (T54 100m, 200m, 400m) and Paeyo Pongsakorn (T53 100m, 400m, T52/53 800m).

Five-time Paralympic silver medallist Saichon credited their success to the four-month centralised training before the Games. He said: "I train every day, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon."

With a tally of 30 gold, 32 silver and 22 bronze medals, Thailand retained their status as the overall champions in the six-day track and field meet. Indonesia (27-24-16) and Malaysia (27-18-8) finished second and third respectively.

Thailand's head coach of 30 years, Visuit Chandoong, was pleased with his team's overall performance.

He said: "I'm happy for them and proud of my team. We trained so hard - in lifting weights, endurance and then sprinting. I am confident that we can continue to be the best in South-east Asia."

He emphasised the importance of grooming new athletes. Saichon may be 32 but young blood Paeyo is just 19.

"We know that Malaysia and Indonesia are getting better, but we will make sure that we get even better.

"I prepare and select young athletes to put them on standby to take over the older ones.

Meanwhile, Singapore finished with a tally of two silver medals, achieved by runner Zac Leow (1,500m T37) and teenager Suhairi Suhani (long jump F20).

Even though wheelchair racers William Tan and Jack Lai did not earn podium places, both of them were pleased with their personal best timings.

Tan, 58, said: "It has been a good APG not just about meeting PBs but to be able to compete. Having been away from racing for so long due to leukaemia, I'm glad to see that our neighbouring countries, such as Cambodia, have improved a lot.

"I see we have to work harder, especially for our younger athletes."

This article was first published on December 10, 2015.
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