Honed for a top podium finish

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THE media were not convinced Malaysia will emerge overall champions of the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in August after Olympic Council of Malaysia selection committee meetings earlier this week where 30 National Sports Associations (NSAs) finalised their entries.

However, OCM president Tunku Imran Tuanku Jaafar and chef-de-mission Datuk Marina Chin were confident the target to be overall champions will be realised.

The reason for media doubts was that a majority of the NSAs were either coy about their chances or secretive about their selections. They had their reasons, like not wanting to give away too much to rival participating nations.

However, there were associations that boldly predicted their chances. But the media remained sceptical.

A total of 558 athletes has been selected from 30 sports. Wth athletes from 12 team sports to be confirmed by number later, another 300 athletes will make the final list, for what will be the biggest-ever Malaysian contingent for the Games, one surpassing 900 members.

It is normal for the SEA Games hosts to win the lion’s share of the medals. But Malaysia have only emerged champions once — in 2001 — out of five hostings.

The first time we hosted in 1965 Malaysia finished second with 33 gold; in 1971 we were second with 41 gold; in 1977 fifth with 21; and in 1989 we won 67 for second place.

Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, OCM assistant secretary and a veteran of the Games, had come with an analysis of winning patterns in the Games’ history.

This work was used to decide which sports and categories to include in the KL SEA Games.

It extrapolated a top finish for Malaysia on the following methodology:

• The medal tally of the five countries that finished in the top five places

• Removing five sports from the 28th SEA Games programme that Malaysia did not win any gold or silver medals — canoe, floorball, rowing, softball and traditional boat race. This reduces the gold medal tally of Thailand by 11.

• Canoe, rowing and traditional boat race included many events: canoe — 17, rowing — 18, and traditional boat race — 8. Winners of the 43 gold were Indonesia — 13, Thailand — 11, Vietnam — 11, and Singapore — 7. In removing these sports Malaysia have reduced the gold prospects of her strongest rivals by at least 10 per cent, without diminishing Malaysia’s tally.

• Shedding five disciplines of the 28th SEA Games programme in which Malaysia did not win any gold — precision shooting, chinlone, billiards/pools, keel boat and sanda. This reduces the Thai haul by four.

• Addition of seven sports with 54 events that were not in the Singapore SEA Games — namely, bodybuilding, cricket, ice hockey, ice skating, karate, lawn bowls, and weightlifting. Malaysia are strong in all seven.

• Addition of events in existing sports, such as track cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, squash and women’s football. (Track cycling — sprint, sprint team, keirin, team pursuit, individual pursuit, omnium, scratch race, points race for men and women — a total of 16 events; rhythmic gymnastics — individual all-round, team, individual apparatus (four events); and squash — men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles for a total of 23 gold on offer. Of these, Malaysia could win 18 gold.

• As hosts Malaysia can expect to see between 10 per cent to 15 per cent improvement in the gold tally.

Based on Kok Chi’s analysis Malaysia can finish at the top with around 118 gold if not more.

But he also noted that three sports at the Singapore SEA Games, namely athletics with 46 gold, swimming with 38, and shooting with 22, only issued in eight gold medals for Malaysia out of a total of 106.

He felt it was imperative Malaysian performers increase this haul to at least 16 gold in order to emerge overall champions.

Kok Chi predicted the Thais would be our strongest rivals. “By removing sports and events the Thais are very strong in, their strength will be greatly reduced. This strategy is fair as the sports removed are not really popular in the SEA region,” observed Kok Chi.

What Malaysia have done is no different from what previous hosts did. This is the privilege of a SEA Games hosts. Malaysia cannot be accused of unfair manipulation.

TONY is a sports journalist with close to four decades’ experience and is passionate about local sports. He can be reached at tmariadass@gmail.com