Tokyo, Japan, May 16, 2016 - Walking back into the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium this week brought back strong memories for several members of the Thailand women’s volleyball team, especially former captain Wilavan Apinyapong.
Not good memories. Memories of four years ago, when they had their dream of a first ever Olympics snuffed out by a incredible final match between hosts Japan and Serbia that turned the dream into a nightmare.
The match ended with Serbia beating Japan 3-2, the only result and scoreline that would guarantee both Japan and Serbia went to London, and Thailand missed out.
The Thai captain at the time was Apinyapong, and she spoke this week of the anger her team felt, mostly for getting themselves into a position where their fate could be decided by others.
“I think about what happened, but I think it is a good thing,” she said. “We were angry, but only for a short time. Then we knew, if we can win two times or three times more than we did four years ago, then we can go.
“We were angry about ourselves because we did not do our best.”
Missing out on an Olympics by such a small margin breaks the heart of any athlete, and for the Thai team it was no different.
But once you feel the pain, it makes an athlete more determined to avoid getting into that situation again.
“For me I remember all the time about the past four years, it is very sad for me,” Apinyapong said. “But I continued to fight so I could play this year. The last four years have been very bad for us, but if we can go to the Olympics this year it will be the opposite.”
Thailand has started their quest for Rio positively, beating Dominican Republic in their opener before losing to Italy 3-1.
The next two games will be crucial if Thailand want to be masters of their own destiny this week. Wins against The Netherlands on Tuesday and Korea on Wednesday would put them in a very strong position to be one of the four teams to go to Rio.
“For our team this week every game is important, but we think about them one-by-one,” Apinyapong said.
“We talk about the Games a lot, because my dream is to experience the joy of an Olympics. This year me and some of my teammates are very old, so for the next Olympics may be difficult for us, so we hope this year will be the year.
“I feel excited, but our staff keep telling us we have to control our excitement. We can’t get too excited because it is not so good for the players during the game.”
31-year-old Apinyapong has been a part of the national team for more than a decade, and said the sense of expectation among Thai fans was exciting and lifting her team.
Volleyball is a major sport in Thailand, and finally breaking through to an Olympic Games will no doubt result in partying in the streets.
“For our team we have many fans in Thailand,” she said. “If we can get to the Olympics it will be very important for Thai people. This is not only our dream, it is the dream of all Thai people.”
Thailand takes on The Netherlands on Tuesday afternoon.