News making sports headlines in 2017

The head athlete recites the SukSar 2017 pledge at the opening ceremony.

The ‘Pocket Rocketman’, Azizulhasni Awang. — Bernama photo

New Leadership

THE state cabinet reshuffle had Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah appointed as Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister; and Datuk Snowdan Lawan become Assistant Minister of Youth and Sports. Both lost no time in demonstrating proactive and vigorous approaches towards realising the vision of Sarawak becoming a sports powerhouse and promoting sports tourism in the state.

 

Major Sports Events

Sukan Sarawak (SukSar) was revived after a lapse of 27 years with the objective to expose and uncover young talents in the state. It ran from Dec 14 to 17. The 29th SEA Games attracted over 4,600 athletes from 11 countries to compete in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 19 to 30. Amidst protests from several countries citing unfair competition, Malaysia was the runaway overall champion with a tally of 144 gold medals – more than double that of runner-up Thailand. Meanwhile, Malaysia hosted its 19th – and final – Formula One (F1) race at Sepang Circuit on Oct 1.

Fireworks light up the sky over Bukit Jalil Stadium during the opening ceremony of SEA Games 2017. — Bernama photo

File photo shows Ferrari’s German driver Sebastian Vettel testing his car during the first practice session of the F1 Malaysia Grand Prix in Sepang. — AFP photo

 

Fastest Man

Malaysia’s fastest man Khairul Hafiz Jantan won the Men’s 100m in the track & field competition of the SEA Games. In the pre-Games warm-up meet, he had clocked 20.90secs to finally break Dr Mani Jegathesan’s 49-year-old national 200m record. On the world stage, fans bid farewell Usain Bolt. The world’s fastest man, who holds the world record for the 100m (9.58secs) and 200m (19.19secs) said goodbye at the World Championships, although the 31-year-old Jamaican could only finish third in his last 100m race.

 

World Champions

The year entered Malaysia’s sports history as one that witnessed two Malaysians emerging world champions. At the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Cheong Jun Hoong won the 10m platform event. The 27-year-old beat China’s 2013 world champion Si Yajie and 2016 Olympic champion Ren Qian into second and third place. Mohd Azizulhasni Awang finally won the Keirin event at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.

It was the 29-year-old’s sixth attempt since 2009.

 

‘Old guards’ fight on

It was the year for veterans in world tennis. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, aged 35 and 31 respectively, shared the four Grand Slam Men’s Singles titles. Serena Williams won the Australian Open, took time out to have a baby and looked set to defend her title at the age of 36 next month. Malaysia’s former World’s No 1 shuttler Lee Chong Wei and squash icon Nicol David, aged 35 and 34, respectively, also continue to fight on. Still, their decline has been quite obvious. Chong Wei did win his fourth All England title, but was eliminated in the early rounds of five Super Series tournaments. Nicol, now ranked World’s No 6, won only one title in the Women’s Pro Circuit 2017, versus as many as 10 back in 2010.

 

Welson’s year to shine

Welson stands as the first Malaysian swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Games by merit. — Bernama photo

While Malaysia can boast of a generation of world-class divers, there is only one in the swimming pool who is showing world-class potential. Sarawak-born Welson Sim, who became the first Malaysian swimmer to

qualify for the Olympic Games by merit last year, won two gold medals at this year’s SEA Games. The 20-year-old, who was honoured as Malaysia’s Olympian of the Year 2017, currently holds the national record in the 200m (1:47.36secs), 400m (3:49.48) and 800m freestyle (8:12.74).

 

Not all bad news

There was very little good news for football in Malaysia and Sarawak throughout the year.

A leadership change in the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and a new coach (he resigned after six months) have yet to change the fortune of the national team. The Crocs were relegated from the Super League and even faced the threat of suspension from all FAM tournaments next year. On the positive side, though, the state women’s football team emerged national champion after lifting the Tun Sharifah Rodziah Cup in front of 4,000 fans in Miri.

 

Shocks and scandals

Corruption among top officials, doping and sex scandals rock the world of sports. In Malaysia, fans and athletes reeled from the departure of national badminton technical director Morten Frost and national diving head coach Yang Zhuliang under controversial circumstances. The two helmed the only two sports that have produced Olympic medals for the nation until 2016.

 

Looking ahead

The 2018 sports calendar will be dominated by the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, running from April 4 to 15; FIFA World Cup in Russia (June 14-July 15); and the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia (Aug 18-Sept 2). The Winter Olympics will feature Malaysians for the first time – alpine skier Jeffrey Webb and figure skater Julian Wee – when it takes place in Pyeongchang, South Korea from Feb 9 to 25.

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