MANILA: The Malaysian contingent ended their 30th SEA Games campaign in the Philippines with an embarrassing collection of 56 gold, 57 silver and 72 bronze medals, way short of the targeted medal count of 70-51-105.
The poor performance also saw the national contingent of 773 athletes and 339 officials finishing in fifth spot overall instead of the targeted top four finish. The Malaysian athletes competed in 52 of the 56 sports contested.
The 70-gold target, if achieved, would have given Malaysia their best ever showing outside of Kuala Lumpur, but it turned out to be one of the country’s worst performances in the regional Games.
This year’s medal haul certainly pales in comparison with the 68 golds, 52 silvers and 96 bronzes won by 428 athletes and 294 officials at the 2007 edition in Korat, Thailand, which remains as Malaysia’s best performance as non-hosts.
The disastrous outing in the Philippines ranks alongside three previous poor performances, namely at the 22nd edition in Vietnam in 2003 (40 golds), 2009 in Vientiane, Laos (40 golds) and 2013 in Myanmar (43 golds).
The Philippines emerged champions for a second time with a massive haul of 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals, followed by Vietnam (98-85-105) and Thailand (92-103-123).
Typhoon Kammuri, the location of venues in three clusters and schedules changes were cited as among the factors for Malaysia’s poor performance by chef de mission Datuk Megat Zulkarnain Omardin but this argument hardly holds water as all the other 10 competing countries had to deal with similar problems.
Megat Zulkarnain may have apologised for Malaysia’s failure but the people’s pain and frustration linger on, knowing that it was a big letdown compared to 2017 when Malaysia emerged overall champions as hosts.
The huge expenditure incurred by the government in preparing the contingent and sending them to the Games seems to have been wasted.
The matter was acknowledged by National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail, who said the national sports governing body was taking full responsibility for the debacle.
The national football squad suffered one of their darkest moments when they lost 1-3 to Cambodia in the group stage and failed to progress to the semi-finals.
Established athletes like Khairul Anuar Mohamad in archery and Welson Sim in swimming also failed to live up to their reputation and the country’s huge expectations on them.
Of the 26 sports targeted for gold, only 18 sports contributed 50 golds.
The sailing, tenpin bowling, archery, ice skating and obstacle sports squads certainly counted as failures as they failed to contribute medals as targeted or at least one gold medal.
However, amidst the dark clouds there is a silver lining, especially in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics which contributed nine golds, athletics with five golds, diving, karate and lawn bowls with four golds each, and badminton which contributed three golds.
Credit should also be given to lesser-known sports that saved Malaysia the blushes by contributing at least one gold medal, namely skateboarding, chess, dance sports, snooker and billiards, as well as wushu which contributed two golds.
Among the revelations in the contingent were Muhammad Haiqal Hanafi, who was crowned as the sprint king, badminton women’s singles champion S. Kisona and national gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi for her three-gold feat.
Andre Anura Anuar also performed well by setting a national record in the men’s long jump with a leap of 8.02m to erase the previous record of 7.88m set by Josbert Tinus at the 2007 Thailand Athletics Open.
National elite swimmer Phee Jinq En also excelled by winning two golds and breaking the SEA Games and national records in the women’s 100m breaststroke with a time of 1 minute 08.50 seconds.
The Philippines SEA Games have exposed the national contingent’s weaknesses and this matter should be addressed by all national sports stakeholders such as the Youth and Sports Ministry, NSC, the National Sports Institute (NSI) and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM).
Vietnam’s emergence as a new sporting force in the region, especially in athletics and swimming, should be taken seriously by all as the country will host the 31st SEA Games in 2021. – Bernama