Top Cuban and Russian boxers, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Oleg Saitov, will be among a record 400 competitors at the 12th World Amateur Boxing Championships starting here tomorrow.
The Russian contingent boasts 23 boxers and is the biggest of the 64 countries competing at Bangkok's Nimibutr Gymnasium.
Saitov, who has won the Olympic gold medal twice in the 69kg division, will be joined by fellow Russians Raimkul Malakhbekov, a two-time European champion in the 54kg division, and 2001 World champion Evgeny Makarenko in the 81kg division.
Perennial powerhouse Cuba is one of eight nations with competitors in all 11 divisions, with Olympic and world champions Guillermo Rigondeaux and Mario Kindelan returning to defend their bantamweight and lightweight titles.
Cuba has dominated the 11 previous world championships since its inception in 1974, winning 55 gold, 24 silver and 17 bronze medals.
At the 2001 championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Cuba topped the standings with seven gold medals, followed by Russia with two and France, Turkey and Ukraine with one gold medal apiece.
The total of 702 athletes and officials for the Bangkok event was a record for the championship, said Amateur Boxing Association of Thailand president, Gen. Taweep Jantararoj.
"It marks the highest number of participants ever to join the tournament. It's more than what we expected but we are prepared to handle it," he said.
Kazakhstan will be represented by 14 boxers, including Sydney Olympics gold medallist Karimzhanov Nurzhan and 2002 Busan Asian Games champion Golovkin Gennady, in the 64kg and 75kg divisions.
Other nations competing across all divisions are: the United States, Russia, China, Canada, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Canada.
Nine Thai boxers will carry the local hopes into the event and officials are aiming for at least one gold medal.
"The last time this event was held in Bangkok in 1994, three Thais made it to the final round, but none of them won the gold medal. This time I am confident that a gold should be within our reach in light flyweight through Suban Phannon or Somjjitr Jongjorhor," said Taweep, the Thai boxing association president.
"I admit that an uphill task awaits Thai boxers in the championships, which attracts many good boxers. If our boxers are not successful, we will have to improve to ensure that our boxing team will be ready for the next year's Olympics," he said.
The Thai association has promised a reward of 1 million baht (US$23,800) to any local boxer who can win a gold at this championship. Local officials said the reward was an incentive to win and not payment for their performance to avoid conflict with their amateur status.