HIGH JUMP: Nauraj focused on maintaining Malaysia's dominanceNAURAJ Singh Randhawa, whose first name in Hindi is translated as "Nine Kings", is in line to be anointed Malaysia's ninth Sea Games high jump king in Naypyidaw next month.
Eight Malaysian high jumpers have soared to victory in the history of the Sea Games, accounting for 18 gold medals in all, and Nauraj, fittingly, now has the opportunity to add his name to a long and illustrious list.
If ever there was one Sea Games athletics gold medal which Malaysia can always count on as a safe bet, it is in the men's high jump, with only the men's 20km walk can boast of such Malaysian domination.
Nauraj, 21, admits there is pressure on him to continue where three-time champion Lee Hup Wei left off but he is unfazed by the challenge.
"So far so good, I'm ready," said Johor-born Nauraj when asked how he felt about making his Sea Games debut.
"There is some pressure because a lot of people have a lot of hopes and expectations on me.
"I just have to deal with it and win it."
Zainal Salleh was the first Malaysian to win the high jump gold in 1967 and since Baljit Singh Sidhu's 1977 victory, only once has the high jump gold slipped from Malaysia's grasp.
Ho Yoon Wah (two gold), Ramjit Nairulal (two), Loo Cwee Peng (three) and S. Kesavan followed Baljit before Vietnam's Nguyen Duy Bang took advantage of five-time champion Loo Kum Zee's retirement to snatch the title in 2005.
However, Hup Wei restored the normal order in 2007 with the first of his three consecutive gold medals and it now falls upon Nauraj and teammate S. Navinraj to ensure the run continues.
Nauraj qualified for Naypyidaw by winning the Malaysian Open last month with a personal best of 2.20 metres, just ahead of Navinraj, with Hup Wei crashing out injured.
Though Hup Wei remains the region's No 1, Nauraj will begin the Sea Games as the clear favourite though Thailand's Pramote Poom-Urai is a potential threat having cleared 2.18m in January.
However, with six Malaysians ranked in the top-seven of the Southeast Asian standings, it can be argued that winning the Malaysian Open was a far bigger challenge than the Sea Games will be.
"To win the Sea Games, I just have to stay focused," said Nauraj, who has improved his personal best this year by a staggering seven centimetres.
"I will always say that I want to keep improving but it depends on the day of the competition. I just want to win it and it does not matter how high I go. I might have to repeat 2.20, it's hard to say."
Nauraj attributes his improvement this year to keeping on the straight and narrow and not letting anything disrupt his athletics career.
"It took a lot of effort and commitment," added Nauraj, who warmed up for the Sea Games with a 2.11m effort to win the Malaysian Education Institution Games in Kuantan last week.
"I will be devastated if nothing comes out of it. I'm at this as a stepping stone to the future, to be a world-class high jumper one day."