Choi Young-seok (L), the South Korean-born coach of the Thai taekwondo team, and his athlete Panipak Wongpattanakit celebrate Wongpattanakit's gold medal in the women's 49kg class at the Tokyo Olympics at Makuhari Messe Hall A in Chiba, Japan, on July 24, 2021. (Yonhap)
For the past two decades, South Korean-born taekwondo coach Choi Young-seok has made efforts to help Thailand make its presence felt in the international sporting world and finally accomplished the goal at the Tokyo Olympics.
His longtime student Panipak Wongpattanakit won the women's 49-kilogram title at the Summer Games that closed Aug. 8.
It was the Southeast Asian country's first Olympic taekwondo gold medal and the only gold won in Tokyo. Thailand previously had two Olympic silvers and three bronzes in the martial arts sport that originated in Korea.
The 47-year-old coach hoped that the bigger-than-expected affection and interest that the Thai people have given him since the Olympics will help him play a role in strengthening ties between the two countries with sports diplomacy.
"It is meaningful that Wongpattanakit and I were able to give joy and encouragement with the gold medal to the people in Thailand suffering from the new coronavirus pandemic, as well as write a page in the country's sports history," Choi told Yonhap News Agency on Thursday (local time) at the Korean Cultural Center in Bangkok.
"I've been living in Thailand for 20 years and appeared in a TV commercial, but it is the first time that I've starred in five commercials at the same time," he said.
Choi visited the center to film an online taekwondo class with the 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist.
He said he was also given a chance to start teaching the Korean martial arts at Kasetsart University, one of the most prominent universities in Thailand, in October.
But Choi's contribution to Thai sports has been recognized across the country well before the Tokyo Olympics.
Since taking the helm of the Thai Taekwondo national team in 2002, Choi has led the dramatic growth of Thai taekwondo, which has now become an emerging force at international events.
His athletes have racked up multiple gold medals at Asian Games and World Championships, and finally won the historic gold at the Olympics this year.
The Korean coach was awarded Thailand's order of merit in 2006, recognizing his achievements in the sports scene.
Earlier this year, the taekwondo expert decided to apply for Thai citizenship, hoping his status as a Thai will help him accomplish even bigger goals in the country.
"I decided to become a Thai national after serious contemplation, not to abandon South Korea, but to bolster the two countries' ties in sports diplomacy," Choi said.
Thanks to the Olympic feat, the ongoing naturalization process will likely speed up and be completed later this year, he noted.
His Olympic gold medalist student Wongpattanakit said she wants to work with Choi, who has been dubbed Tiger for his strict, no-nonsense style of coaching, to defend her title at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The duo has been together for 11 years since the athlete was 13.
"My coach is strict, and prefers tough and intensive training like his nickname 'Tiger Choi,' but when the training ends, he is very sweet and gentle," she said. "I want to work with him as long as I can."
Meanwhile, the Korean Cultural Center's online taekwondo class taught by the Thai national team and Korean instructors will be uploaded on the center's official social media accounts at 7 p.m. every Tuesday from Aug. 31 to Oct. 5.
"We hope cultural exchanges and friendly relations between South Korea and Thailand will expand with taekwondo classes," Jo Jae-il, the chief of the center in Bangkok, said. (Yonhap)