KUALA LUMPUR: The centrepiece five-day track and field competition kicks off tomorrow in the 29th SEA Games with Malaysia looking strong to improve on the three gold medals won in the 2015 outing and it will be a big day for young national sprinter Khairul Hafiz Jantan with the 100m finals slotted at night at the National Stadium.
If all goes to script, the 19-year-old will be at the starting blocks with defending champion Eric Cray of the Philippines, 2013 winner Jirapong Meenapra of Thailand, Yaspi Boby of Indonesia and a second Malaysia hopeful, Jonathan Nyepa for the showdown.
Khairul’s national record of 10.18s ran last July is the fastest in the pack. American-Filipino Cray, who will be defending the straight sprint and the 400m hurdles with over an hour between the two races tomorrow, has a best of 10.25s posted two years back in the 2015 Games while Jirapong’s fastest is 10.31s recorded three years ago.
The blistering race could threaten the Games 10.17s of Suryo Agung Wibowo of Indonesia set in the 2009 Games in Vientiane. Khairul is also down to run in the 200m on Wednesday and 4x100m on Friday.
Malaysia’s hopes of gaining at least six gold from athletics was given a lift by army commando Muhaizar Mohamad who won the marathon bronze to end a 44-year medal drought in the race.
Hopes rest high on discus thrower Mohd Irfan Shamsuddin to open accounts tomorrow afternoon with a smashing show to defend his gold medal. His national record of 62.55m is a class above the Games Record of 59.50m by Singapore’s Wong Tuck Yim set 18 years ago in Brunei.
However, he may be troubled by an ankle injury sustained just a few days ago.
‘”I’m asking all Malaysians to pray that he will be able to perform. He is one of our top athletes who has been consistent in all his competitions,” said team manager Datuk Salim Parlan.
Under the spotlight too are Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli and Abdul Latif Romly, the first paralympians fielded by Malaysia in the Games with expectations of both making the podium. Muhammed Ziyad is going for gold in the shot putt tomorrow night and Abdul Latiff is a medal prospect in Thursday’s long jump.
On Wednesday, triple jumper Muhammad Hakimi Ismail will have to fend off a tough challenge from Mark Harry Diones of the Philippines to retain his gold medal. The Malaysian has been troubled by injury for a year since winning in Singapore and his season best of 16.61m is a shade behind the Filipino’s mark of 16.70m.
Olympian Nauraj Singh Randhawa is expected to retain his high jump crown with no less than a Games record because his personal best and national record of 2.30m is superior to the 2.24m mark set by fellow Malaysian Loo Kum Zee in 1995 in Chiang Mai.
Malaysia can expect a 1-2 finish in the men’s high jump as three-time champion Lee Hup Wei is back to form and cleared 2.20m after recovering from injury.
The comeback of five-time SEA Games gold medallist Yuan Yufang from retirement in 2007 brings hopes of gold in the women’s 10,000m walk on Wednesday.
The national team will be banking on sprint queen Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli in the women’s 100m tomorrow, hammer throwers Jackie Wong and Grace Wong Xiu Wei in the men’s and women’s events, and Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian in the men’s 110m hurdles.
Teenagers Noor Shahidatun Nadia Zuki and R. Kirthana, who competed in the 2016 World Junior Championships in Poland, may have a decent outing in the women’s triple and long jump. – Bernama