THE National Sports Council's (NSC) target of 35 gold medals was surpassed on the final day of competition for the Malaysian Sea Games contingent, but despite being ranked fourth overall -- the lowest final position in 22 years -- Malaysia finished the 25th edition of the regional meet relatively on a high.
Not only did swimmer Daniel Bego emerge the top male athlete of the Games with his five gold and a bronze medal, the final tally of 40 gold, 40 silver and 59 bronze medals also included some of the more significant victories in the Sea Games.
Without a big number of sports in which Malaysia stood strong chances of winning, this tally was widely regarded a success.
Most stunning of all was the Under-23 national football team's recovery from the brink of elimination to beat Thailand and end their domination of the football competition that stretches back to the 1993 Games.
Malaysia then beat hosts Laos convincingly in the semi-finals and put to rest their controversial 3-1 preliminary round defeat to beat Vietnam (1-0) in the final.
The end of football's 20-year gold medal drought was the biggest victory for the contingent, but it wasn't the only new milestone achieved.
The boxing squad finally proved that they were capable of being just as competitive abroad when they ended a 42-year wait for their first gold medals outside of the country through Farkhan Haron and Fairus Azwan Abdullah.
The aquatics squad contributed the most to the national contingent's final tally with nine gold, five silver and six bronze medals from swimming and six gold, one silver and two bronze medals from diving.
The swimming squad powered by Daniel, triple gold medallist Siow Yi Ting and Khoo Cai Lin also impressed in setting 18 new national records. All but one of the nine gold medals won were in Sea Games record time.
All the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) had targeted initially were four gold medals from swimming and four from diving.
The next best performers were the karate squad, who surpassed the target of three gold medals with a final tally of five gold, six silver and two bronze medals.
But in some instances there were still questions about the level of development in the squad, more so in the men's kumite team that only managed the silver medal, thanks mainly to 35-year old R. Puvaneswaran.
Puvaneswaran also won the 55kg gold medal on his Sea Games swansong. All signs show that the 55kg gold medal is set to be lost with his absence from the next Sea Games.
The silat squad too bounced back from the controversy of biased judging at the Korat Sea Games two years ago, to surpass their target of two gold with a total haul of four gold and six bronze medals.
This was by contrast an exceptional case of surpassing a modest target instead of the bold target of 10 gold medals by the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU), which eventually turned out to be an embarrassment, when they only managed six.
While it was a done deal from the start for pole vaulter Rosinda Samsu, the end result was more about the MAAU even failing to meet the modest seven gold medal target set by the NSC.
Athletics was at least saved by the six gold medals, unlike the shooting squad, who featured seasoned shooters Hasli Izwan Amir Hasan, Bibiana Ng and Nur Suryani Taibi.
They were also one of the largest squads in the contingent, but failed to deliver a single gold medal, ending the campaign with six silver and five bronze medals. NST