ALL said and done, the 25th Sea Games in Laos which start officially today, is still by far a medal run as far as the Malaysian contingent are concerned.
Medals, like it or not, remain a priority at this regional Games, albeit with a reduced number of sports and the absence of Olympic sports such as track cycling, gymnastics, hockey, sailing and equestrian, which would have doubled the country's 35 gold medal target.
If it was about development, then the ratio of just 40 from under the Pelapis programme out of the 348 Malaysian athletes in the contingent doesn't exactly portray an emphasis on the Sea Games being the platform by which the country wishes to expose its new talents.
Lee Chong Wei's withdrawal from the badminton competition on Monday was seen by most people as due to the fact that the World No 1 stood only to make RM5,000 from the incentive scheme rather than this not being the level he should be expected to shine in.
In reality, Chong Wei, who would have been one of the few global stars on parade in Laos, pulled out due to a thigh injury.
That was strange considering the fact that fewer people cared about the sepak takraw squad meeting their targeted gold medal in a sport in which the Sea Games could be considered a level as high as the World Championships.
But the reduced number of sports this time around means less for everybody, but nonetheless aquatics and athletics are expected to be the biggest contributors of medals.
Of the troubled martial arts, the national taekwondo squad make a return, hoping to erase the memories of the enormous effects, politicking has had on the sport, while karate will hope a good showing here steers the sport away from what seems like a similar proposition to taekwondo that surfaced recently.
Bryan Nickson Lomas could well get Malaysia's gold medal count off the ground tomorrow, when the Olympian takes the 10m platform as the overwhelming favourite for gold.
If that fails, shooter Hasli Izwan Amir Hasan could well deliver in the 25m rapid fire event at the National Sports Complex shooting range here in Vientiane.
But the duo are both part of the elite programme, and supposed to be aiming for things bigger than competition against their Southeast Asian counterparts.
Thus, this being the first Sea Games for the 40 athletes under the Pelapis programme, the onus would be on them to show that the back-up and development athletes are able to carry the burden of delivering medals.
This, hopefully, is when the Pelapis programme shows that Malaysia should begin using the Sea Games as a platform to build for the future. And more seriously at that. - NST