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Leaping into the Future with Supanara SNA

Nineteen-year-old Supanara Sukhasvasti na Avudhaya has not yet had time in his short life to accumulate piles of trophies, or to become a household name.  In fact, his accomplishments to date may sound modest to Westerners raised in sports-crazed cultures of elite athlete worship.  However to fans in his home country, the achievements of this Thai long jumper are nothing short of miraculous, and considering the solid start he has made, they have good reason to hope for major global glory in his future. 

Supanara SNA, as his name is often abbreviated, began making history at only 17 years of age, when he became first ever Thai athlete to win a medal at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Youth Championships.  At the 2009 event in Bressanone, Italy, he claimed the gold in long jump and silver in the triple jump.  It was also the first time a Thai athlete of any age had made it even as far as the finals in a non-Olypmics global sports event, making SNA an instant national hero. 

A native of Chiangmai, Supanara SNA began his athletic career in 2007, when his talents so impressed one of his local teachers that he took the boy to Bangkok and introduced him to the coaches at the IAAF-affiliated sports program there.  Soon SNA made the move over 400 miles south to live and train with the other athletes.  This program and the resultant competitions have since sent SNA all over the world, even bringing him the opportunity to meet one of his heroes:  American Mike Powell, the world record holder in long jump.  

An interesting bit of trivia is that Supanara SNA is a fifth-generation descendant of King Rama IV (known in other countries as King Mongkut), upon whom the classic play and movies such as The King and I are based.  Rama IV was a very progressive leader who promoted the adoption of Western scientific principles and technological developments in Thailand.  However, being one of his modern descendants may seem less of a distinction when one learns that Rama IV had 82 children by 32 wives. 

Nonetheless, Supanara continued making his own fame with further long jump feats previously unheard of in Thailand, where sports such as muay thai kickboxing, taekwondo, and western-style boxing have largely reigned supreme.  While he made a strong second-place showing at the 2009 Southeast Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, SNA’s next major victory came in Vientiane, Laos, where he won the long jump gold medal at the 2009 Southeast Asian Games.  Next came another gold medal at the 2010 Asian Grand Prix in Bangalore, India.  SNA’s 8.04-meter jump there made history once again, being the first time any Southeast Asian athlete jumped over eight meters.  SNA followed this accomplishment with a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

While all of the previous accolades came at “under-eighteen” junior competitions, there is every indication that Supanara SNA will continue his success into adulthood.  He currently holds the Thai national and Southeast Asian records for long jump at 8.05 meters, which he achieved in 2011 at his first adult meet, the 19th Asian Championships in Kobe, Japan.  For this effort he won the silver medal, beat out of the top spot by only 1 centimeter, by China’s Su Xiongfeng.  But even if Supanara Sukhasvasti na Avudhaya never wins another medal or sets another record, he will always possess the impressive distinction of being Thailand’s first ever world champion athlete.

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