Nurul Huda Abdullah and Jeffrey Ong ruled the pool in the 1980s but their departures were felt in subsequent Games from 1991 to 1995 as Malaysia only managed to bag two golds each time.
The tally increased again in later editions with the emergence of a new breed of swimmers based in the United States like Lim Keng Liat, Elvin Chia and Siow Yi Ting before the likes of Khoo Cai Lin and Daniel Bego began to take over.
Breaststroker Yi Ting has since called it quits two months ago due to her age and a growth in her neck.
Yi Ting’s absence will be really felt especially as she contributed two out of the five golds at the last Games in Indonesia.
So, not much is not expected of the 14-member team – nine men and five women. On top of that, five of them are newcomers as Malaysia go through a transitional period. At best, they are only considered good for only three golds.
Daniel is back after missing the previous Games to recover from shoulder injuries but it remains to be seen whether he has what it takes to repeat the five-gold splash in Laos in 2009.
The men’s squad will also have Kevin Yeap, Asian Youth Games gold medallist Lim Ching Hwang, Yap See Tuan, Shaun Yap, Wong Fu Kang,Tern Jian Han, Vernon Lee and Welson Sim while Cai Lin, Christina Loh, Erika Kong, Yap Siew Hui and Nadia Adrianna Redza make up the women’s team.
Shaun (breaststroke), Fu Kang (breaststroke), Welson (freestyle), Siew Hui (butterfly) and Nadia Adrianna Redza (breastroke) are the five promising youngsters that will be making their debuts.
“There is always a star swimmer for each SEA Games. Unfortunately, it is not going to come from Malaysia this time,” said national coach Paul Birmingham.
“Yi Ting is gone and you cannot expect Cai Lin to swim like what she did a few years ago. We will head to Myanmar this time with lower expectations but it is also interesting to see where our swimmers are heading to in future Games.
“We are expecting the likes of Siew Hui and Shaun to come good by the next Games.
“We are in the midst of rebuilding a fresh team and we can’t expect them to deliver right away.
“If they can win some medals, that would be a good start.
“SEA Games is very hard to predict as there are a lot of changes over a two-year period. We don’t really know the exact strength of our rivals,” added Birmingham.
At the last Games in Palembang, the golds came from Christina (50m event breaststroke), long distance specialist Kevin (1,500m freestyle) and Cai Lin (800m freestyle).
In Yi Ting’s absence, Christina will carry the hope of keeping the 100m and 200m breaststroke titles in Malaysian hands. There is no chance for Christina to defend her 50m breaststroke title as the event is not contested this time.
While swimming is unable to deliver as many as they used to in the past, Malaysia are pinning their hopes on the divers to match the previous haul of seven golds from Indonesia two years ago.
Malaysia are good for gold in at least five out of the eight events at stake.
Team captain Pandelela Rinong, who won the Sarawak sportswoman award for the third year running, believes the back-up divers can meet the expectations in their first major assignment.
Of the 11 divers picked, five – Chew Yi Wei, Danial Sabri, Muhd Nazreen Abdullah (men); Loh Zhiayi and Nur Dhabitah Sabri (women) – are competing in their first Games.
“I am only competing in one event - the 10m platform individual as the coach wants to give Nur Dhabitah a chance to partner Leong Mun Yee to defend the 10m platform synchro title for Malaysia,” said Pandelela.