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January 4, 2005

Thai champion has something to play for

From: The Age, Australia - Jan 4, 2005

By Stephen Dabkowski
January 4, 2005

The tsunami disaster is even affecting the Deaflympics, due to start in Melbourne tomorrow.

Nattachai Unsomsri, Thailand's best badminton player, talks confidently about trying to win the gold medal in the singles. But he is hiding the tragic loss of his doubles partner. The Thai badminton team was meant to have five members, but only four made it to Melbourne.

Mr Unsomsri explained through a sign language interpreter that his partner was from Phuket and died in the December 26 disaster.

Now he will play only singles - but the disaster has made him even more determined to win, both for his country and and for his late teammate.

"My mind is 100 per cent focused on winning the gold medal, but I know there are many good athletes here at these Olympics," he said.

Mr Unsomsri said the confusion after the tsunami meant he did not know how many members of the team were affected by the tragedy. "I'm very excited to be in Melbourne and mix with other deaf international Olympians. In Thailand the deaf community is very small, but here in Australia the community is quite large, so it is exciting to be involved," he said.

The Deaflympics are the largest international sporting event to be held anywhere in the world this year. More than 3600 athletes from 94 countries are staying in Melbourne or regional Victorian centres in preparation for the Games.

The 80-year-old Deaflympics were last held in Rome in 2001.

Lynn Boren, coach of the US handball team, said it was the first visit to Australia for his 11-member squad.

The team is staying in Ballarat and preparing for the competition in which it is expected to play off for the gold medal against Croatia.

Mr Boren said Ballarat was an enjoyable town to stay because the team had seen some real Australian bushland. But he had one question: Why was Ballarat a little cold - even in the middle of the Australian summer?

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.