SEA Games:Jirapong puts on blistering show to win sprint treble

Above: It’s one for posterity as Thai sprinter Jirapong Meenapra basks in his 200m victory.

NAYPYIDAW - He might have been bending over and gasping for breath after winning the 200 metres sprint. But there was one more thing that Jirapong Meenapra needed to do before collapsing onto the track in exhaustion - a little celebratory wiggle.

This was, after all, Thailand athletics' showman and he could not let his fans down especially after completing a hat-trick of sprint titles at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium.

Said the 20-year-old, who also took golds in the 100m and 4x100m relay: "I'm really very happy. I have accomplished more than I had expected here.

"Even after winning the two golds on previous days, I didn't expect to win the 200m title.

"This has really been a very successful SEA Games for me and I dedicate my golds to the people of Thailand."

With his countrymen, they celebrated for a full 30 minutes in the stadium.

Draped with his nation's flag, the fastest man in South-east Asia danced his way towards a section of the travelling Thai fans who egged him on with their drums, horns and singing.

Even Thai journalists, cameramen, and photographers got in on the act as they clapped and sang along with their new star before posing with him for pictures.

It was a well-deserved party for the Games debutant who, just three years ago, came in fifth in the 100m at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Since he started competing on the international scene, the 100m has always been his focus.

That is why the win in the 200m three days before came as a surprise for the 1.7m-tall runner, who was also part of Thailand's 4x100m relay team at the 2010 Asian Games.

He said: "I don't like the 200m. It's a lot more tiring than the 100m."

Still, Jirapong ran a convincing race as he clearly edged ahead of the field in the final 10m. He clocked 21.29 seconds to beat silver medallist Harith Ammar of Malaysia (21.46). Third-placed Le Trong Hinh of Vietnam timed 21.47.

Now that he has established his dominance in the region, Jirapong is already setting his sights on next year's Asian Games.

In Incheon, South Korea, he hopes to be part of a gold-winning 4x100m Thai quartet and also to achieve a podium placing in the individual 100m.

Also completing a sprint double of her own by adding the 200m title to an earlier 100m win, was Vietnam's Vu Thi Huong.

The 27-year-old, who won the 200m silver at the 2010 Asian Games, coasted to an easy 23.55 victory by beating second-placed Neeranuch Klomdee (24.02) of Thailand by half a second. Huong's compatriot Nguyen Oanh Thi was third in 24.13, while Singapore's Shanti Pereira was fourth in 24.16.

Shanti, 17, had caused a stir in the Singapore camp when she clocked 24.12 in the morning's heats as the second-fastest qualifier.

Her time was also a national record, erasing Dipna Lim-Prasad's October mark of 24.36.

But the morning's effort took so much out of her tank that Shanti was left to rue a missed medal by a mere 0.03sec.

The youngest runner in the final had earlier missed the 100m bronze by 0.08.

Shanti said a slow start had cost her a medal chance, but still managed a winning smile after yesterday's race.

She said: "I knew people were expecting me to win a medal and I was also hoping to. But I didn't want to pressure myself that much and I did my best.

"It's my first SEA Games and I will have more chances to win."

ugenec@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES