Friday, October 28, 2011

Malaysia prioritizes Olympics over SEA Games

Malaysia will place little focus on becoming the overall champion of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, but instead will place a higher priority on doing well the upcoming Olympic Games next year in London, said chef de mission of the Malaysian delegation, Datuk Naim Mohamad.

“We have no target at all to become the overall champion. The SEA Games are only for exposure to competition, or a tryout. We are not participating in all sports and we’ve also realized that we’re not good at all sports. So we are targeting the Olympics by prioritizing only four sports: archery, cycling, badminton and diving,” Mohamad told The Jakarta Post on a visit to Jakarta on Wednesday night.

As the SEA Games represent only a testing ground for Malaysia, many of the athletes competing at the games will come from the second layer of the country’s medal hopefuls.

“We have several world champions, such as Lee Chong Wei in badminton, Azizulhasni in cycling, and four of our archers who have all qualified for the Olympics. Also we have two more individuals in diving competitions, including Brian Nickson. They will not take part in the SEA Games,” said Mohamad.

“We have won many gold medals in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games but none from the Olympics, so we are concentrating on London 2012. Besides, having our athletes compete in the SEA Games would limit the chances of our younger athletes,” he added.

Mohamad said that Malaysia is targeting 60 gold medals at the SEA Games and will send about 650 athletes and 200 officials to take part in 38 out of the 41 sports featured at the games, leaving out the sports of traditional boat racing, wrestling and the martial art of vovinam.

“We have been preparing since the [2009] Laos SEA Games but becoming the overall winner is not our target. Our highest target is the Olympics,” said Mohamad.

Malaysia is prioritizing four sports because they have Olympic gold medal prospects in these sports. Badminton world number one Lee Chong Wei is such a prospect. He has already won four gold medals at Commonwealth Games and also won the Asian Championship in 2006, but is still searching for success at the Olympic Games, World Championships and Asian Games.

Another gold medal hopeful in London will be Azizulhasni Awang, who became the overall winner of the Keirin track cycling event in the 2008-2009 World Cup after obtaining two gold medals. Azizulhasni, who is referred to as “the pocket rocket”, also won a silver in the men’s sprint event at the 2009 World Championship in Pruszkow, Poland.

Mohamad said that the reason Malaysia’s focus was Olympic-centric was because the country had yet to win a gold medal at that level of competition. Malaysia has taken part in the Olympics since 1956, back when the country was known as the Federation of Malaya. So far the country has only two silver and two bronze medals, both from badminton.

Malaysia has hosted the SEA Games five times since the competition’s inauguration in 1959. The country has become the overall champion only once, in 2001, when it hosted the games in Kuala Lumpur. Indonesia has hosted the competition four times. Since first taking part in the games in 1977, Indonesia has become the overall champion nine times, followed by Thailand with five and Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam each winning the games once.

However, at higher levels of competition, such as Asian Games, Malaysia has performed better than Indonesia. In the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea, Malaysia was ranked in 12th position with six gold medals, while Indonesia lay in 14th place with four. In the 2006 games in Qatar, Malaysia improved to 11th position with eight gold medals, while Indonesia fell to 22nd position with only two. In the 2010 games in China, Malaysia finished in the top 10 with nine gold medals while Indonesia finished 15th with four.

The Jakarta Post

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