IT WAS only a month ago that the taekwondo squad knew for sure they would get to compete in the Laos SEA Games when the Olympic Coun-cil of Malaysia (OCM) gave them the green light.
And yesterday, taekwondo exponent Che Chew Chan had the honour of delivering the country’s first gold medal in the 25th edition of the Games in Vientiane.
Chew Chan fought through the pain barrier to beat Vietnam’s Nguyen Hu Ti 3-2 in the final to retain the women’s middleweight (below 73kg) title at the Booyoung Gymnasium.
En route to the final, she defeated Elia Suhar of Indonesia 10-4 and Cambodian Sorn Darin 8-0.
It was her fourth SEA Games gold medal.
Besides the honour of being the first Malaysian gold medallist, yesterday’s achievement was also her most satisfying since she made her international debut in 2001.
Chew Chan only missed out on the gold medal when she took silver in Hanoi in 2003.
Chew Chan went for a career-saving operation on both her knees after the Beijing Olympics last August and only returned to training in July.
She did not compete in the world meet in Copenhagen two months ago as coach R. Dhanaraj was not confident of her match fitness.
“This gold medal really means a lot to me as it has been 14 months since I last fought in a competition,” said Chew Chan, who took pain-killers before the final bout against Hu Ti.
“The gold has always been my ultimate aim but I knew it was not going to be easy as I have not fought on the international stage since the Olympics (in Beijing last year).
“It has not been easy to get taekwondo into the SEA Games because of all the problems but we have been in training all this while.
“I hope winning this gold medal will show that we can help contribute to the country,”
Malaysia also bagged a bronze through Lee Wan Yuen in the women’s heavyweight (over 73kg) category.
Darly Josie lost in the quarter-finals of the men’s welterweight (below 80kg) competition.
Dhanaraj hoped that Chew Chan’s performance would lift the spirit of the exponents who have yet to see action.
“Chew Chan has the experience but I was not sure whether she could pull through because she has not fought since the Beijing Olympics. I’m proud of her and hope we will add to the gold medal count,” he said.
Two exponents will take at least the bronze medal in today’s competitions. Affifudin Omar Sidek and Nurul Nadia Mahamat have byes into the semi-finals of the men’s featherweight (below 68kg) and women’s bantamweight (below 53kg) categories respectively.
Ryan Chong, a silver medallist in the 2007 Korat Games, will compete in the men’s bantamweight (below 63kg) division.