Monday, May 24, 2010

Asia's Prince of speed

His hero is Usain Bolt. The Jamaican superstar's magical performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he won golds in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, is seared in the memory of Jirapong Meenapra, 17 (picture).Besides the talent, Bolt's showmanship is also a draw for Jirapong.

The Thai speedster tried his best to put on a show for the 500-odd spectators yesterday at the Asian Area Qualification for the Youth Olympic Games at Bishan Stadium.

In the heat and humidity, Jirapong finished first in the boys' 100m with a time of 10.72sec. Less than two hours later, he returned to the track and helped Thailand win the boys' medley relay.

"I'm not so happy with my time as I could have gone faster if not for the false start," said Jirapong.

"I want to be able to do 10.50 next, which is below my personal best of 10.51."

The blue-riband event was what everyone was waiting for yesterday. Iranian Hassan Taftian had set the pace in the morning heats, posting the fastest time of 10.71.

Jirapong qualified second fastest (10.76), with Asian Youth Games gold medallist Masaki Nashimoto third quickest (10.83).

A false start by Saudi Arabia's Mohammad Ibrahim increased the tension in the final. When the sprinters did get away, Jirapong bolted home to claim a spot in the boys' 100m event at the inaugural Youth Olympics.

Taiwan's Chen Jen-chieh and Masaki claimed the remaining two spots, after finishing second (10.82) and third (10.85), respectively.

As Japan's Masaki ripped off his vest in frustration, Jirapong flashed his megawatt smile, and delivered his idol's signature lightning bolt pose to cheers from the crowd.

"I'm very happy to win and I want to come back and qualify for the final at the Youth Olympic Games," he vowed.

Added the cheeky youngster: "The sprinters from Jamaica, United States and United Kingdom are very good, and I need to do better."

The Youth Olympic Games will see around 3,600 athletes aged between 14 to 18 from 205 countries competing in the 26 Olympic sports.

Less than two hours after his individual race, Jirapong was back on track to compete in the boys' medley relay. Team-mate Pongskorn ?Sopakorn ran the first 100m followed by Jirapong (200m), Sarawut Rattanaphan (300m) and Nitaporn Thongpoon (400m).

The Thai quartet never let up on the pace, setting a blistering time of 1:53.81, easily beating Saudi Arabia (1:54.69) and China (1:54.93).

The relay events at the Youth Olympics will see teams representing five continents - Africa, Americas, Europe, Oceania and Asia. Each team will be made up of the fastest runners for each sprint distance.

That means Thailand's Jirapong will run the 100m leg for Asia.

Co-organised by the Asian Athletics Association and Singapore Athletic Association (SAA), the Asian Area Qualification saw around 300 athletes from the continent competing in 36 events over the weekend. After the final race on Sunday, a total of 80 athletes have booked their spots for the Youth Olympics, with China dominant, winning 19 events in all.

The SAA will decide over the next week who to nominate for the Games (see other story), and the Singapore National Olympic Council will make the final decision. - TodayOnline.

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