SEA GAMES: Association reduces gold target as it doesn't want to pressure young athletesNOT quite certain with how its athletes will perform in next month's Sea Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) sought to dampen expectations of a gold medal harvest from the sport.
MAF decided to fall in line with the National Sports Council by reducing its own seven-gold target to five, saying that it is doing so to avoid putting too much pressure on a squad in which almost 70 per cent are athletes aged 21 and below.
The figure would match the five gold medals won in Palembang two years ago, which remains the lowest haul from athletics since the 1975 Sea Games when Malaysia won four gold.
MAF named 27 young athletes in the squad to groom them for the 2017 Sea Games which Malaysia will host, hence the reduced target.
"I agree with the team manager that we should reduce our target to five gold medals," said MAF president Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, referring to a discussion with his deputy Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh, who is also the athletics Sea Games team manager.
"This is a young team and we don't want to push them too hard. We will give them a chance to excel but also allow them time to mature."
Of the 39 athletes headed to Naypyidaw, 26 will be making their Sea Games debut and only walker Lo Choon Sieng will be defending a gold medal from Palembang while hurdler Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian is the only other athlete to have won gold in 2007.
The other four gold medal winners in 2011 -- Lee Hup Wei, Roslinda Samsu, Noraseela Khalid and Tan Song Hwa -- either failed to qualify or have retired.
After yesterday's selection committee meeting in Bukit Jalil, MAF dropped two relay athletes from the original list as requested by the Olympic Council of Malaysia.
"We are very glad that OCM has accepted our selection and we have decided to follow their advise to drop two relay athletes," said Zainal.
"As such, Anchois Aron and Firdaus Kimleh will not be going to Myanmar and we have settled on five runners, including a reserve, for the men's 4x400m event.
"The two athletes will instead compete at the Brunei Open and as they are still young, will have many more opportunities to go to the Sea Games."
Eyes will be trained on the 4x400m event after the post-2011 Sea Games disgrace of having a gold medal stripped following the failed drugs test of Yunus Lasaleh.
S. Kannathasan, P. Yuvaraaj and Schzuan Ahmad Rosely remain from that quartet and their bid for redemption will be aided by Arif Zulhilmi Alet and Kwong Kar Jun in Naypyidaw.
Kannathasan and Arif will also run in the 400m, one of five events along with the relay, men's high jump, men's 20km walk and women's hammer where the gold medals are expected to be won.
MAF also decided that Eddie Edwards and Azhar Ismail will carry Malaysia's challenge in the men's sprints while S. Komalam Shally and Zaidatul Husna Zulkifli will run in the women's 100m and 200m events.
The men's 4x100m relay team be selected from Eddie, Azhar, Harith Ammar Sobri, Shamimi Azmi and Sebastian Lee Azcona while Komalam and Husna will be joined by triple jumper Noor Amira Nafiah and Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli in the women's 4x100m event.
Malaysia will also compete in the women's 4x400m where Nurul Faizah Asma Mazlan, 22, and Nurulassikin Rasid, 20, are joined by schoolgirls Siti Nur Afiqah Abdul Razak, 15, and Fatin Faqihah Yusuf, 17.
The Zulkifli twins, 100m hurdler Raja Nursheena Raja Azhar and Shamimi were late additions to the original list of 39 with walker Elena Goh, 400m runner Layalia Rameli, Anchois and Firdaus making way.