SEA Games 2015: Thais not afraid to test new waters

The Thai quartet, competing in the team free routine, came in last but the members said they gained a lot from the experience.

Few athletes would be confident enough to compete at the SEA Games after only three months of proper preparation but Thailand's plucky synchronised swimming team are undaunted.

On top of their inexperience, the four-person team suffered two-point penalties for both team events - half a point for each swimmer absent as competition rules stipulate that the events require eight swimmers.

Although the Thai side came in last among the four nations competing in the team free routine finals on June 3, the girls still put on their best smiles, spun and splashed their way to Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's In The Hall Of The Mountain King.

"They were training on their own eight months ago," said team manager Teerakathiti Pannipa.

"Then, they trained professionally under a coach for only three months before the SEA Games."

Their coach is 25-year-old Wei Zhong, an accomplished synchronised swimmer from China with Chinese national titles and silvers in the 2014 German and France Opens. He trains them with the help of a translator.

He said: "When I started coaching them, they had almost no background in synchronised swimming other than the basics.

"I had to be very strict and harsh with them and I think they must have suffered a lot."

Yet, the girls still found joy despite the tough grind.

"I am really happy to be here," said Kalika Poonprasat.

Her 17-year-old twin Karima added: "It is a new experience and we learnt a great variety of things while we were here."

Along with team members Phlisorn Panramon, 14, and 13-year-old Jaroenmaksuwan Lapus, the Thai team have an average age of just 15.3 years. Of the quartet, only Kalika has prior competition experience, having participated in this year's Japan Open.

The Thai team have two senior swimmers, Polsen Nantaya, 26, and Puttisiriroj Thanyaluck, 28, but they competed only in the duet events.

"The difference in their (Polsen and Puttisiriroj) abilities would be too obvious," noted Wei.

"They had about seven years of training compared to the other girls in the team."

Now that the competition is over for the team, Wei has plans to work his Thai swimmers hard to make a splash in future competitions.

He said: "I will be training with them for three more years. They have already made a very big improvement this time round, and I am sure they will improve a lot more.

"When they get back after the SEA Games, they must keep the mentality to improve all the way."

As the disciplined girls looked at their coach who could barely speak a word of Thai, Wei addressed them in Mandarin: "That hunger must be there."

This article was first published on June 12, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.