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Wijan wealth gets a timely reality check

October 11, 2000

OLYMPIC hero Wijan Ponlid will have to be as shrewd with his financial moves as he is with his boxing technique to avoid the pitfalls that have landed his gold-medal-winning predecessor in so much trouble.

Wijan, only Thailand's second gold-medal winner at the Olympic Games, is expected to win cash and awards amounting to a combined Bt24.76 million. And that does not include the Bt10,000 monthly salary he will earn thanks to the Osothsapha (Teck Heng Yoo) Group, plus the Bt10,000 monthly salary that the Olympic Committee of Thailand will pay him for the next 20 years.

Before sitting down with a financial planner, however, Wijan would be wise to consider the fate of Thailand's first Olympic gold-medal hero. Following his historic victory in the 1996 Atlanta Games, Somluck Khamsing also found himself showered with cash awards.

But Somluck's fortune of Bt21 million was so badly mismanaged that he ended up with assets but very little liquidity or cash in hand. Last week, during an appearance on the Penetrating the Heart programme on TV Channel 5, he admitted he was Bt5 million in the hole and also short of cash.

During the programme the humbled former champion said he had been banking on repeating as a gold-medal winner in Sydney so that he could accumulate a new round of wealth to repay his debt. But his hopes collapsed like a house of cards when he was easily eliminated in the quarter-final bout.

Now he is facing his day of reckoning.

On Monday, only one week after his return from Australia, Thailand's former golden boy suffered yet another humiliation when the Siam Commercial Bank revealed it was taking legal action against him. The SCB is suing the amateur boxer for failing to repay Bt101,599 in credit-card bills.

Somluck will need more than his gloves and heavy punches to defend himself from his creditors.

Official records of how he spent his money are not available, but Somluck said that of his Bt21 million in cash and awards, more than Bt10 million went into building a house.

"I'm a country boy," he said, "and like most country boys who are poor - otherwise they wouldn't go into boxing in the first place - I wanted to have a house of my own. So I poured more than Bt10 million into building my house. The asset is still there, but I don't have a lot of cash around," he explained.

The rest of his fortune, he said, went into his boxing camp, a drinking-water business, a retail petrol station and a real-estate business. He said that only his drinking-water business was doing fine while the rest were in trouble.

When asked by the moderator whether he had spent any of the money on gambling, Somluck admitted that he did gamble but said the amount was not substantial.

"When I bet Bt20,000, people said: 'Somluck lost Bt400,000 or Bt500,000.' What could I say? I just went along with it and said: 'Fine, it was Bt500,000.' That was one of the burdens of fame."

For the moment Wijan appears to be cut from completely different cloth. Unlike the talkative Somluck, the 24-year-old policeman is sparing with his words, often allowing his wife, Chulaporn, to speak on his behalf.

Furthermore - if Chulaporn is to be believed - Wijan is very economical with his money.

"He knows his budget, how much he should spend each month. He'll put the rest in savings, and he won't touch it," she said.

With this attitude Wijan should be able to keep his wealth for the rest of his life, provided he resists the temptation, to which so many who suddenly find themselves wealthy eventually succumb, to invest his money in a big way in order to double his wealth.




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