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Thai table tennis star Orawan Paranang shoots balls at the practice table that dominates the living room of his modest home on the outskirts of Bangkok.
The makeshift training facility is the latest stop on a 17-year journey that took the left-hander from poverty in rural Thailand to the big stage of the Olympics.
The 24-year-old, who was once told she was too short to play, secured her place at the Tokyo Games by winning the Southeast Asia regional qualifiers in Qatar in March.
Having helped support her family in northeast Thailand with cash prizes since the age of 15, she now stands on the threshold of the highest stage.
“When I passed that point (Olympic qualification), I felt like I finally managed to lift a heavy stone from my chest,” Orawan told AFP.
“It was an indescribable feeling.”
His love of gambling was sparked in his home district – in the heart of the rice fields of Ubon Ratchathani, an agricultural province on the border with Laos and Cambodia – when seven-year-old Orawan saw older students earning prizes. price at school.
But as the fourth of five children born to poor farming parents, getting even basic equipment like bats was a struggle.
“My family didn’t really have a lot of money to support my pursuit of this sport. But they always supported me spiritually and mentally and let me do what I love,” she said.
Orawan also had to fight to get his first trainer, sinking into drills for countless hours to prove his commitment.
Eventually, the trainer agreed to take Orawan, pay for her kit and equipment, and she then enrolled in a specialized sports school in Bangkok.
– Home training –
Orawan’s big breakthrough in the tournament came in 2018 when she won the women’s doubles at the Thailand Open with Suthasini Sawettabut.
Today, the living room in the house she shares with her boyfriend and nephew has become her training center as she devotes seven hours a day to preparing for next month’s Games.
With a world ranking of 88 and the Chinese table tennis giants set to dominate the podium as usual, Orawan’s medal chances are slim, but she is determined to portray herself.
“My goal is to get as close to the final stages as possible,” she said happily.
For Orawan, even reaching this point is a huge achievement – a reminder that the Olympic spirit isn’t just about winning medals.
“At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve been successful and my parents and family are happy,” she says.
“Everything has changed, my family’s financial situation has improved. It is not yet perfect but we are not struggling like we used to.”
© 2021 AFP