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Thais strike Gold - and an air-borne Optimist - in Brazil

Steelers beat Titans in NFL opener

Capello still has work to do despite World Cup spot

Thais strike Gold - and an air-borne Optimist - in Brazil

Story by Peter Cummins
At a ceremony held at Government House recently, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva honoured a group of young Thai athletes who have brought great credit to the Kingdom in the world’s sporting arena – particularly yachting - at a world championship in Brazil.
The air-borne Optimist saga appears later in this story, but two Eastern Seaboard teenagers, Noppakao Poonpat and Kirati Bualuang, have placed Thailand clearly among the super-stars of the world yachting firmament.
Noppakao, an incredibly-talented 13-year old from Sattahip near Pattaya, won the girls division of the just-held International Optimist World Championship, finishing fourth overall in a huge fleet of more than 200 of the world’s best junior sailors from some 50 countries.
A further accolade for Thailand was that, apart from Noppakao’s Gold in the individual racing event, the Thai team also won Bronze for the total nation team scores.
For his part Keerati Bualong, also a Sattahip sailor, finished sixth in the 29th Volvo ISAF Youth Sailing World Championship, held among 300 young competitors from over 50 countries. For the record, “ISAF” means the International Sailing Federation – a peace-promoting force for good and not the other ISAF (NATO’S “International Security Assistance Force”, bent on destruction in the name of peace.)
Both the Optimist and the Youth championships were held in Brazil: the former in Niteroi and the latter in Buzios, both locations fairly close to Rio.
The Optimist was designed and developed in Clearwater, Florida by Clarke Mills in the 1960s. Clarke witnessed the children in the hilly sea-side resort, who were racing their wheeled “apple-boxes” down the hills, with many a scrape, bruise and trauma. “Much better they go out on the sea,” he surmised. “At least, if they fall off or capsize, the water will cushion them somewhat more than macadam.”
The end result was the Optimist, a little (2.3m) snub-nosed dinghy, aimed at sub-teen and teen-aged children world-wide and is now sailed by 150,000 under 16-year-olds, in more than 100 countries.

Teenage sailing sensation Noppakao has a smile for the camera. (Photo/ Malee Whitcraft)
This year represents the first time that Thailand has won Gold and Bronze, since the competition began in 1964. The five Thai youngsters who travelled to Rio were from Sattahip and Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, namely: Noppakao Poonpat, Totsapon Mahawichean, Tacharin Narbonne, Don Whitcraft, Jirawat Jadklay, with coach Somkiat Poonpat, country representative Malee Whitcraft and team manager Dylan Whitcraft.
Although a solo Thai entrant in the Volvo Youth Worlds, Kirati was supported by a coach from Royal Varuna Yacht Club, Gareth Owen, and manager, Royal Thai Navy’s Veerasit Puangnak, both extremely competent sailors.
According to Malee, country representative of the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA), the optimists sailed in some of the most difficult wind conditions ever encountered in almost 50 years of competitions. The bay, although beautiful, was surrounded by mountains, creating most difficult wind conditions, with enormous shifts and fluctuations around the compass testing the children to the utmost.
It was during the team race of Thailand, against the much bigger Argentinian juniors, that a massive storm, reaching some 50 knots, roared out of the hills. It became the saga of the first-air-borne Optimist, as Thailand’s smallest boy and his dinghy were lifted by the ferocious squall, clear out of the water and deposited a few metres away. The lad, totally unafraid and unfazed, remarked later that he had flown economy class for some 15 hours to reach Rio and now, complete with his dinghy, he had a brief taste of flying business class!
This storm left many boats capsized, including the rescue boat which was completely turned over and in need of rescue itself. Fortunately, the next day was a much-needed rest day.
The Thai team was sponsored by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, Equinox, PTT, DKSH (Levi’s), the Tilleke and Gibbons law firm, Blue Wave Water Sports and the Maduzi hotel complex.
Noppakao has won many international regattas over the last two years. She trains six days a week at the Royal Thai Navy Base in Sattahip. The coach Somkiat Poonpat has been coaching the team for 5 years.
Perhaps this talented young Thai lady’s performance could best be described by the romantic prose of the Brazilian organizers: “Noppakao, a Thai girl, from humble origins and incredible sailing skills, is the perfect example of concentration, unwavering attention and swift, light movements on the water.” The organizing manager added, with the beautiful nuances of Portuguese, “the wind’s dance on the Bay of Niteroi had found the ballerina to the star performance: Nappakao Poonpat.”

The Thai juniors celebrate their success at the International Optimist World Championships in Brazil. (Photo/ Malee Whitcraft)


Steelers beat Titans in NFL opener

Alan Robinson
Pittsburgh (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently are going to stay with this Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes combination until somebody beats them.
Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:32 gone in overtime and the Super Bowl champion Steelers again relied on Roethlisberger’s ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in the NFL season opener last Thursday night.
The Steelers, their running game stuffed by Tennessee’s defense, didn’t get going until Roethlisberger began repeatedly finding Holmes and Hines Ward open downfield. Roethlisberger went 33 of 43 for 363 yards, with Holmes - the Super Bowl star - making nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown and Ward, despite a potentially costly fumble, making eight for 103.
Holmes’ statistics were exactly the same as the Super Bowl, when he caught the winning 6-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger in the final minute to beat Arizona 27-23.
Thursday’s victory might be costly, however - star safety Troy Polamalu, the best player on the field during the first half, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a blocked field goal. Coach Mike Tomlin said the injury usually sidelines a player 3 to 6 weeks.
“It is speculation at this point (how long he will be out),” Tomlin said.
The Titans lost the coin toss to start the overtime and, as so often happens, never saw the ball again. Roethlisberger, who led a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, hit Ward for 11 yards, Holmes for 11 and rookie Mike Wallace for 22. Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on first down to win it.
“It’s nice to know we can win close games,” Reed said. “This is my eighth year here and I’ve been in a lot of close games, and we usually are on the up side of those.”
While the Steelers ended up winning on two Reed field goals, the Titans may have lost because Rod Bironas twice couldn’t convert from inside the 40.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t beat the Tennessee Titans, the Tennessee Titans beat the Tennessee Titans,” said wide receiver Nate Washington, the former Steelers player.
The Titans were the last team to beat the Steelers, winning 31-17 on Dec. 21 to gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, but they never won again and the Steelers never lost again. Still, Steelers’ fans remembered how LenDale White, Keith Bulluck and several Titans players stomped all over Terrible Towels at the end of the game, and it created a buzz of anticipation for a rematch that appeared likely to occur in January but didn’t.
Instead, this game wasn’t a throwback to last season, but to the 1970s, when the Titans’ predecessors, the Oilers, twice met and lost to the Steelers and their famed Steel Curtain defense in the AFC championship game. All that was missing were some Jack Lambert hits on Earl Campbell.
“It was a 15-round, old-school Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight that went the distance,” Bulluck said.


Capello still has work to do despite World Cup spot

Robert Millward
London (AP) - Eight wins in eight games is the perfect way to qualify for the World Cup, especially when it features a 5-1 victory over the team that stopped England getting to Euro 2008.
But England coach Fabio Capello knows he has more to do to turn one of football’s biggest underachievers into World Cup winners.
Capello allowed himself a hint of a smile as he congratulated his players in his walk across the Wembley turf after last Wednesday’s one-sided victory over Croatia, the second place team in their qualifying group. Two goals apiece for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and a gift for Wayne Rooney after a goalkeeper’s blunder, gave the fans plenty to cheer.
But the sloppy passing at the back, the doubts over England’s goalkeeping strength and Emile Heskey’s wasted chances are still problems facing Capello.
While Glen Johnson is a threat as an attacking right back, he is a liability when defending. Same for left back Ashley Cole. Casual passes by some of the midfielders and forwards could easily have led to conceding goals, and England are way behind their rivals in terms of goalkeeper talent.
Heskey missed two one-on-one chances in the first half while Jermain Defoe, scorer of five goals in his last three England appearances, sat on the bench.
Capello wouldn’t commit himself to a prediction about how good England’s chances are of winning football’s biggest title 44 years after their only triumph.
“There is always the same expectation with the England team,” the Italian said. “It is very high. We have to play to win because we are England. We have one of the best teams in the world. We always have to play with the spirit we did this evening.
“The first target is OK, we have achieved it, we are going to South Africa. We have time now to prepare for the World Cup. I know the problems of playing in the World Cup. We have eight months and it is important no players are injured.”
Praise for England’s qualification came from Prime Minister Gordon Brown, South African organizers of the World Cup and beaten Croatia coach Slaven Bilic.
“Many congratulations to Fabio Capello and the England team for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals with tonight’s emphatic win against Croatia,” Brown said in a statement released by his office. “The country looks forward to supporting the team in South Africa next summer.”
World Cup organizing committee chief executive Danny Jordaan said England’s qualification underlined the strength of the Premier League and its global appeal.
“Fabio Capello’s side have powered their way to South Africa 2010 and will certainly be a force to be reckoned with next year,” Jordaan said. “They are playing very good football and the team will certainly come to South Africa as one of the tournament’s favourites.
“The English Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world and arguably the most followed globally. All the England players are extremely popular in South Africa and a number of them have visited the country with their club teams and with the national team in recent years.”
Bilic, whose team won 3-2 at Wembley two years ago to stop England qualifying for Euro 2008, has seen Capello’s team beat his side 4-1 and 5-1, the first loss being in Zagreb. He believes that an England side on this form could well win the World Cup.
“Based on tonight definitely. But it is not easy to play every game like tonight,” he said. “They missed their first pass after half an hour. It was one-two, one-two. It was perfect. If they manage to play like this then of course they can win it.
“(England) were better in every situation. They absolutely deserved the victory. They were stronger every time, they were faster for one meter at any moment - they were simply better.