Manus Boonjumnong, Thailand’s boxing hero
Crowned Olympic light welterweight champion at Athens 2004 and then taking a silver medal at Beijing 2008, Manus Boonjumnong is generally considered to be Thailand’s greatest amateur boxer.
Thailand has a rich tradition of Olympic boxing success. The sport gave the country its first ever Olympic medal winner Payao Poontarat, who earned a bronze in the light flyweight competition at Montreal 1976, and then its first Olympic champion, Somluck Kamsing, who took featherweight gold at Atlanta 1996. Meanwhile Manus Boonjumnong, who won a gold medal in Athens in 2004 and a silver in Beijing four years later, in the light welterweight category, became the first Thai athlete two win more than one Olympic medal.
Path to Greece
Boonjumnong rose to international prominence when he won a bronze medal on home soil at the 2003 AIBA World Amateur Boxing Championships. He subsequently secured a berth at the Olympic Summer Games in Athens after winning the Asian light welterweight (64kg) qualifying tournament in March 2004 in Guangzhou (CHN), where he defeated Nurzhan Karimzhanov (UZB) in the final.
On 15 August 2004, the Thai boxer began his Athens campaign in the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall, comfortably disposing of Spyridon Ioannidis (GRE) 28-16 in the opening round. In the Round of 16 and quarter-finals, he saw off the challenges of the Philippines’ Romeo Brin (29-15) and France’s Willy Blain (20-8), and then put in an even more impressive performance in his semi-final, beating Ionut Gheorghe (ROU) 30-9.
Boonjumnong enjoyed a strong start to the final, using his quick, skilful style to break through the defence of 1999 world champion Yudel Johnson (CUB) several times, building up a 6-2 lead after the first round and a 14-10 lead going into the final round, during which he adopted a highly conservative strategy. The approach paid dividends, as he eventually took gold by a score of 17-11.
“My coaches and I had decided that beforehand,” he explained. “When you’re ahead on points, you need to protect your lead. Perhaps the fans didn’t understand why I fought that way, but the judges certainly did.”
No sooner had he climbed out of the ring than he received an unexpected call from King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, which caused the newly crowned champion to burst into tears of joy. “I fought for my King. I dedicate this gold medal to my family, the Thai people and, of course, the King of Thailand,” he said.
Stirring comebackWelcomed like a returning hero in his homeland, Boonjumnong then took a long break from boxing. Keen to help him back onto the global stage, his coaches sent him to train in spartan conditions in Cuba, where he sharpened his technique and returned to full fitness.
In 2006, he confirmed his return to form by picking up a gold medal at the Asian Games in Doha (QAT) and began to focus on defending his Olympic title in Beijing. In April 2008, he carried the Olympic torch through the streets of the Thai capital, Bangkok.
Silver in Beijing
Between 14 and 23 August 2008, Boonjumnong enjoyed another fine campaign in the light welterweight tournament in Beijing’s Workers Indoor Arena, overcoming Japan’s Masatsugu Kawachi (8-1) in the Round of 16, Kazakhstan’s Serik Sapiyev (7-5) in the quarter-finals and Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias in the semi-finals (10-5).
In the final, he faced pugnacious southpaw Manuel Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic. His opponent stepped up a gear in the third round to lay the foundations for a 12-4 victory. Despite having to make do with second place, Boonjumnong still became, and remains to this day, the only Thai Olympian to capture a medal at two different Games.
After retiring in 2012 at the age of 32, Boonjumnong, who is regarded as Thailand’s best ever amateur boxer, devoted himself to Muay Thai, and has since enjoyed great success in the demanding contact sport.