Phuket King's Cup Regatta gold medalist and Top of the Gulf Laser Radial champion, Kamolwan "Bam" Chanyim, is determined to become the first Thai woman to qualify for the Olympic Sailing Competition in the Laser Radial.
As this magazine reaches its readers in July, the 17-year-old will be in Cyprus for the Sail First ISAF Youth Worlds, where she has her sights on a medal. Ambitious, yes, but not unrealistic. At only 14 years of age, she finished fourth. Last year, she finished seventh after a few unfortunate incidents on the water compounded by severely cold conditions and jet lag. (It was there she finally understood that cold water can kill, something that confused her when she had watched the film Titanic when she was younger and had only ever sailed in the warm waters.)
This year, she enters the regatta, open only to those under 19 years of age, as the only Laser Radial sailor to have finished in the top ten twice in the past three years. All those who outperformed her earlier have aged out of the regatta. She also enters with a new mindset.
"I want to go to the Olympics, that's my goal," says Bam. "In competition, I now do everything I can to put myself in front. I fight for every position."
Winning a medal in Cyprus would be an auspicious stepping stone to the Olympics. Current Olympic gold medalist Xu Lijia of China was the first Asian to win a medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds, when she finished second in the Laser Radial class in 2005. Singapore's Elizabeth Yin took the gold in 2009 and was a 2012 Olympian.
Thailand's Keerati Bualong was the first Asian to earn a medal there in the one man's dinghy, taking the silver in the Laser Standard at the 2010 ISAF Youth Worlds. He went on to become the first Thai to qualify for the Olympic Sailing Competition in the dinghy class.
Meanwhile, the only Thai woman to have ever qualified for the Olympic Sailing Competition is windsurfer Napalai Tansai who participated in three Olympic Games.
Hopes were that later this year Bam will sail with Xu Lijia in China at the Laser Radial
Women's Worlds and the first Asianbased ISAF Sailing World Cup being held in China. Up until late June, these were "hopes" only, as all was dependent on finding funding.
Kingdom Property Making it Possible
In breaking news as we went to print, property developer Kingdom Property signed a sponsorship agreement which will enable Bam to get the international experience essential to her future success.
The deal signed on June 28th sees Kingdom Property CEO Nigel Cornick continue the decade-long sailing sponsorship track record he started when with Raimon Land, supporting the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, and now the Top of the Gulf Regatta. Kingdom Property is also the Gold Sponsor of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club's Junior Sailing program in Pattaya, its debut landmark project, Southpoint, going up nearby.
"We are delighted to be supporting Kamolwan and her efforts in promoting sailing in Thailand which has some of the best sailing events and waters in Asia - and of course her strong ambition to succeed in a highly competitive sport," said Nigel.
Laser Association of Thailand Sailing Development consultant Nima Chandler noted "The concept of sponsoring a sailor is new in Thailand, but it not only works elsewhere, it is crucial to ensuring sailors get the training and support they need to reach their full potential and do their country proud." Having been a volunteer member of Keerati's support team in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, Nima noticed how many international sailors are dependent on sponsors.
Major automobile companies fund entire national teams, top sailors and sailing camps. Banks and shipping companies are also big supporters of the sport. Among other Laser sponsors abroad are large marinas; sailing, sport and tourism bodies; sporting good brands; internet companies; and water suppliers.
"With funding by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand and the Sports Authority of Thailand this year limited to the Asian Sailing Championships in Korea and the SEA Games in Myanmar, we are most grateful for Kingdom Property sponsorship," she added, the signing capping efforts to find a title sponsor.
Other supporters for Bam's ISAF Youth Worlds campaign include the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) which has awarded her entry to itsAthlete Participation Programme, subsidising the costs of her participation. Private sponsorship covers a professional coach who will also work with the Thai 29er team of Don and Dylan Whitcraft. Jim Hood of RS Thailand (www.rssailing.com/th) - which repairs glass, fibre and plastic boats and imports Magic Marine sailing gear and spare parts - has also donated equipment. Other costs were underwritten by Chandler & Thong-ek Law Offices (www.ctlo.com), which has been a major supporter of Thai sailing since the 1970s.
Helping Bam's cause, and that of other sailors in the future, is a new Thai decree permitting a 200% tax deduction on contributions to sport through December 2015. The team behind Bam, all volunteers, also promise delivery of other benefits to sponsors. "We want sponsorship to be a meaningful experience, to offer a return on the investment," says Nima.
Meanwhile, Bam brings much to the table besides her sailing skills. She is a top student in her final year of high school. She speaks Thai and English and is learning Mandarin. She is healthy, fit and active, a cyclist, swimmer and jogger. She is fun, friendly, creative, and social media smart. She is also presentable and confident in social situations. In sum, she is an inspiration to Thai teenagers.
To follow Kamolwan's progress, become a Facebook fan of Bam Kamolwan Chanyim, Thai Sailor.
Among other Laser sailors to watch is new national Laser 4.7 champion Chusitt "Pop" Punjamala, 15, who turned heads at the Hong Kong Festival of Sports Open Dinghy Regatta in June, when he took first place in the 4.7 class, second overall in the Laser fleet. By the end of the month, he had jaws dropping in Europe as well. Pop finished in eighth place at Kiel Week in Germany, despite warnings that the annual regatta, one of the most competitive events of the European summer sailing calendar, might not be the best place to debut internationally.
Travelling with Thai Olympic coach LCdr Veerasit Puangnak and a mixed Asian team led by Polish coach Marek Nostitz-Jackowski, he will sail in the Laser 4.7 Youth Worlds in Hungary. Afterwards, it will be overland to Poland for a professional sailing camp. In August, his plans are to fly to the USA to qualify for the 2014 Youth Olympics.
"The Youth Olympics is the biggest goal for young sailors," says Pop. "It is tough to get there, but I want to race in it once in my life. I won't be expecting a gold medal (not that I haven't dreamt about it) but I will be doing intensive training so that I am able to do my best there."
Also posting impressive results at Kiel Week were Thai 29er sailors, Don and Dylan Whitcraft, 18 and 16 years of age. Under the guidance of former 29er world champion, Australian coach Steve Thomas, they ended the regatta in 12th position in a fleet of over 100 sailors, with two first place finishes to their name. They will also participate in the ISAF Youth Worlds, and the 29er Worlds in Denmark in August.
More about Bam:
Born and raised in the naval town of Sattahip on the Gulf of Thailand, Bam's sailing career has been one of overcoming obstacles which have only hardened her resolve. At 11, she qualified for the SEA Games in the Optimist but was told she was too small to go. At 12, she qualified for the Youth Olympics but was told she was too young to go. Since then, she's been rebuffed more than once because of her age, but when she has competed abroad for Thailand, often as the youngest on the water, her results have been impressive.
When she was invited to join the Thai team at the Asian Sailing Championships in Bali although she did not qualify, she won a bronze against girls two to three years older than her. A year later, at 13, she placed second in the Byte CII Asian Championship in Thailand despite only two weeks of training in the boat. At 14, it was a third place in the Asia Pacific Laser Championships, also held in Thailand, which made her eligible for 2012 Olympic consideration.
Going into the Laser 4.7 Worlds that year, she was one of four Thai sailors selected for intensive training by visiting international coach Javier "Rulo" Borojovich, who advised her to do more international competition. She's since had her ups and downs, taking advice from Olympian Keerati Bualong on keeping things in perspective. She has learned the importance of coaching in technique and fitness, consistency on and off the water, and not being so jai yen (relaxed) after letting other sailors pass her in a major regatta. When she qualified again for the SEA Games at age 15, she had to learn to manage her own training without the guidance previously provided by her father. She finished with a silver, despite being much younger than her competitors. At the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Perth later that year, which was also the first official 2012 Olympic qualifying regatta, she was the youngest in her class.
Subsequently, the Sports Authority of Thailand turned down her request for sponsorship to the Laser Radial Worlds, the final Olympic qualifying regatta. Rather than accepting the situation, she invested her reward money from the SEA Games to get herself there, and performed very well for her age (there was only one girl younger than her sailing), almost securing an Olympic slot.
Bad luck and a few mistakes there as well as earlier setbacks have only reinforced her determination to continue sailing competitively, to prove she can reach her goals and do the Kingdom proud.