Gang members, soft drink companies, mar joy of Olympic medalist’s victory

BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

The Olympic victory by weightlifter Udomporn Polsak has been hailed throughout Thailand, but it also has had an ugly side, including a fatal shooting at her family’s house and a dispute between soft drink companies eager to capitalize on her gold medal.

The shooting followed a gang brawl at a victory party Tuesday night at her parents’ home in northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province, police said Wednesday.

In addition, bickering broke out between distributors of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who both staked claims to give away their drinks in front of the family house.

About 500 people, including village officials, neighbors and relatives, were celebrating Udomporn’s Sunday victory in the 53-kilogram class when shooting broke out.

Police said the slain man, 21-year-old Boy Jonkoh, was a distant relative of the gold medalist, who was still in Athens.

“There were two groups of teenagers involved in a brawl during a concert in front of the house, before the suspect pulled out a gun and began shooting,” said police Lt. Col. Kuankit Chuanchit.

He said 19-year-old Worayuth Wonsantia has been charged with murder. Six other youths arrested in the fighting face lesser charges, he said.

On Wednesday, Udomporn’s mother, Sasithorn, ordered the local distributors of Coca-Cola and Pepsi to dismantle stands they had set up in the street in front of their house to give away soft drinks to throngs of well-wishers.

Both companies claimed a special right to be there but complied with her wishes.

“The owners of the house said they do not want to have any more trouble and ordered us to take down our tent and signboards,” said a field manager for Coca-Cola who gave his name only as Supoj.

“The house owner did not talk about sponsorship or anything. She just said that there was trouble last night, and one person died in a shooting at the party, so they don’t want more trouble.”

Tai Wongsanga, the regional manager for Coca-Cola distributor Thai Namthip, said the company had the right to set up a stand in front of the house “because Coke is the main sponsor for the Olympics.”

His counterpart at Pepsi, Suthiwong Arbhathorn, countered that his firm had an equal right to be there as a proud local company keen to show its appreciation of Udomporn. “But the mother of Udomporn telephoned us this morning and told us to take away our tents and signboards, and we did,” he said.

Officials and sponsors have promised jobs and handsome financial rewards for the 23-year-old weightlifter, Thailand’s third Olympic gold medalist ever, and first woman.