BE prepared for a smaller harvest of medals but expect quality performances from the Malaysian athletes in the 25th edition of the SEA Games, which officially get under way in Vientiane today with the opening ceremony.
Laos, the land of a million elephants, have opened the door for the first time to welcome their South-east Asian neighbours to strut their stuff in 25 sports after pooling their resources and funds to provide the best for all.
Malaysia are taking part in 21 sports and it will be an achievement to win between 30 and 35 gold medals.
At the Korat SEA Games two years ago, Malaysia featured in 43 sports and the haul was 68-52-96.
A few medal hopefuls – world No. 1 shuttler Lee Chong Wei, walker Yuan Yufang and hurdler Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian – are non-starters this time but it has not dampened the team spirit.
The bulk of the medals are expected to come from the pool, with several swimmers – Daniel Bego and Siow Yi Ting – and divers – Yeoh Ken Nee and Bryan Nickson Lomas – tipped to give splashing shows.
Expect several national marks and SEA Games records to tumble at the pool.
The Thai contingent, packed with world-class talent, are strongly fancied to dominate in athletics but Malaysia will be banking on several veterans, among them walker Teoh Boon Lim, 110m hurdler Mohd Robani Hassan, 400m hurdler Noraseela Khalid, high jumper Lee Hup Wei, pole vaulter Roslinda Samsu, hammer thrower Tan Song Hwa and the men’s 4x400m team to turn up the heat at the Main Stadium.
With strong performances in the recent Super Series Masters Finals, hopes are high on women’s singles shuttler Wong Mew Choo and the pair of Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty to smash their way to victories in Laos although Indonesia are the heavy favourites.
Malaysia are also expecting their top athletes in shooting, cycling, karate and wushu to deliver.
Chef-de-mission Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz said he was looking for quality over quantity in Malaysia’s campaign this time.
“The performances of the athletes in these Games should not be judged on the number of medals won.
“It should be assessed on whether each one of them can achieve their personal bests and breakthroughs,” he said.
“For some, this is part of their journey to attain success at a higher level. And for some, this is the pinnacle of their careers. It is my hope that Malaysian athletes will show team spirit throughout the Games.
“It would mean more to me if football and sepak takraw make an impact in these Games because it will show that they have done something that was impossible. But our football team have run into a setback and I hope they will get back on track.”
The Malaysian football team may have to pack their bags and leave if they lose to Thailand in the last group match on Saturday.
Malaysia are also keeping their fingers crossed for some surprises from their young talent.
“We hope that our back-up athletes from shooting, karate, taekwondo and maybe athletics will achieve something great in Laos,” said national back-up team director Jefri Ngadirin on the participation of their 40 athletes.
There were initial concerns internationally that first-timers Laos would fail as the Games hosts but they are certainly set to proudly make the event a memorable outing for everyone.
And for Malaysia, it could be their best Games ever in terms of making breakthroughs and seeing new stars coming through. STAR