Thursday, November 19, 2009

Malaysia will be chasing shadows in Vientiane

EIGHT gold medals is the target but don't expect any new names to emerge to herald a new dawn for Malaysian athletics at the Laos Sea Games next month.

The talent pool has gone dry and the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) will be banking on the same old faces for some desperate justification of its existence.

Two years have passed since Malaysian athletics hit an-all time low in Korat, Thailand, when the national athletes brought home a meagre seven gold medals, but nothing has changed.

The same people who had boldly predicted then that the athletes would win 10 gold medals remain in charge.

Nobody was held accountable then and likewise, nobody will if, or rather when, it goes pear-shaped again in Vientiane.

This is a far cry from the heady days of 1997 when the track and field squad held their heads high with a massive 16-gold burst in the Jakarta Sea Games.

It has been a steady downhill slide since then and a dismal outing at the Asian Championships last week does not bode well for Malaysia's prospects at the National Sports Complex main stadium in Vientiane.

If anything, the Sea Games will herald the return to form of Noraseela Khalid, who despite being 30, is still gliding over hurdles and putting her young compatriots to shame.

Noraseela was MAAU's saving grace at the Asian meet, winning Malaysia's sole medal after finishing second in the 400m hurdles.

With MAAU scraping the bottom of the barrel for medals, it has asked Noraseela to double up in Vientiane and run the 400m as well.

As it stands, Malaysia are good for six gold medals with Noraseela in the hurdles, high jumper Lee Hup Wei, pole vaulter Roslinda Samsu, hammer thrower Tan Song Hwa, Robani Hassan and Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian in the men's 110m hurdles and Teoh Boon Lim and Lo Choon Sieng in the men's 20km walk.

These athletes are a cut above the rest in the region but there is some cause for concern with Roslinda, who has performed poorly in her last two outings.

After inexplicably failing to post a mark at the Malaysian Open, Roslinda failed to fire in Guangzhou, China when she relinquished her Asian title following a poor 3.60m effort.

Even Hup Wei is not immune to the odd hiccup, but he should still comfortably win gold even if he only soars at 2.15m, the same height he managed in Guangzhou.

MAAU is also banking on the men's 4x400m quartet to repeat their Korat gold medal success but given the lack of quality quarter-milers in the country, it is wishful thinking that they can best Thailand in the event.

For once, Malaysia will not have a ghost of a hope in the sprints with none of the athletes even in contention for a bronze medal let alone gold.

Distance running has long died since the retirement of M. Ramachandran while the emergence of Vietnam's women athletes has left Malaysia further in the shadows.

The rest of the 44-strong squad, which will likely be trimmed before they set off for Laos if MAAU cannot find the funds to send the Category-B athletes, will be making up the numbers.

But even in all the gloom, there may be one or two athletes hoping to prove the doubters wrong and in Terengganu-born Idris Zakaria, Malaysia has a future Sea Games champion in the making.

But the problem here is that MAAU has been making Idris run the sprints and the 400m in the hope of squeezing out as much as possible from him.

Given that he prefers to focus on the 400m, MAAU's mismanagement of another promising athlete could well see Idris join the ranks of the disillusioned in the MAAU stable.

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