KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — This could be the start of a golden period for Malaysian sports.
The track and field stars have been shinning over the past year as we have seen the national men’s and women’s 100m and men’s high jump records broken.
Athletes such as Khairul Hafiz Jantan, Badrul Hisyam Manap, Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli, G. Aravinn Thevarr and Nauraj Singh Randhawa have been grabbing the limelight with their performances.
Cycling, squash, badminton, archery and diving have had also their fair share of heartwarming tales and this bodes well for for the country that for so long only looked at Nicol David, Lee Chong Wei and Azizulhasni Awang for inspiration.
Diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri, shuttler Goh Jin Wei, cyclist Shah Firdaus Shahrom, squash players Eain Yow Ng and S. Sivasangari and archers Fatin Nurfatehah Mat Salleh and Muhd Ikram Joni have all won medals at world class events.
These are the ones who will be carrying the burden of delivering medals for Malaysia in the next decade.
But one of the stars who have shone brightly recently is none other than para athlete Abdul Latif Romly, who on Wednesday, created history by winning the National Sportsman of the Year award.
He beat Rio Olympic silver medallist Chong Wei (badminton), Rio Olympic bronze medallist Azizulhasni (cycling), world champion Syarul Azman Mike Mahen (bodybuilding), Rafiq Ismail (bowling) and 2015 winner Mohd Al-Jufferi Jamari (silat) to win the top prize.
He is the first para athlete to be given such recognition following his exploits at the Paralympic Games last year where he broke the world record three times with leaps of 7.47m, 7.57m and 7.60m to win the long jump (T20) event.
Now, he is aiming to win a medal in the KL SEA Games in August (KL2017).
“I really want to compete in the SEA Games. I have beaten the qualifying mark (7.52m) with my result in Rio. I want to be the first para athlete to compete in the Games,” said the soft-spoken Abdul Latif.
“If I do make it, I hope KL2017 will be the first of many events where I can test myself in a non-para competition,” said Abdul Latif, who won the Malaysia Games gold medal by defeating abled-bodied athletes in Kuching nine months ago.
Abdul Latif is ranked second in the country behind Luqman Hakim Ramlan, who has a personal best of 7.62m.
The third best jumper is Kedah’s Muhd Nazri Mustafa with 7.37m.
As such, Abdul Latif is on course to be selected for KL2017 but he knows it won’t be easy as there are several meets scheduled before the qualifying period ends on June 30.
Abdul Latif featured in his first competition this year in February. He only cleared 7.40m but it was enough to win the men’s long jump gold medal in the Perak All Comers Athletics Championships in Ipoh.
“It was not a great leap but I won gold. If I’m selected for the SEA Games, I will have to do much better if I’m to win a medal,” he said.
“The National Sportsman of the Year award has given me a boost. I will fight to get better results and challenge Luqman to be the best long jumper in the country.
“My ultimate mission now is to be par with able-bodied athletes.”
At the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, no Malaysian qualified for the men’s long jump event.
At KL2017, we could well see Abdul Latif with a medal around his neck.
One proud coach
He is the man behind Abdul Latif Romly’s meteoric rise but Syahrul Amri Suhaimi prefers to keep a low profile.
The 34-year-old has been coaching Abdul Latif for the past three years and in that time his protege has gone from registering leaps of 7.14 to a staggering 7.60m which he recorded at the Rio Paralympics last September.
“There’s no secret to his success. We had a plan, he stuck with it, stayed disciplined and is quite a talented young man.
“I’m very proud of his achievements which are down to his hard work and dedication,” said Syahrul.
“In three years, he has blossomed into a world beater and he is still only 20.
“Based on his personal best, which is also a world record for para athletes, he is ranked second in the country behind Luqman Hakim Ramlan (7.62m).
“I’m proud of that.”
Syahrul said Abdul Latif has beaten the qualifying mark for the SEA Games (7.52m) but revealed selection will only be finalised on June 30.
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. There is still time for other jumpers to go beyond 7.60m in the next two months,” cautioned the coach.
“If based on last year’s distances, yes he made the cut.
“But he needs more events before I can assess where his form is at.
“The plan is to get him into the SEA Games as it’s being held in Malaysia.
“The experience of competing against abled-bodied athletes is an invaluable experience.”
Syahrul said another target to aim for is the World ParaAthletics Championships in London from July 14 to 23.
Before that, they will compete in the International Paralympic Committee World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Paris from May 30 to 31.
Athletics’ shinning stars
Nauraj Singh Randhawa
Nauraj Singh Randhawa narrowly missed out on becoming the first Malaysia track and field star to qualify for an Olympic final. The high jumper missed out on countback after clearing 2.26m in Rio on his second attempt. Four others who cleared the height in their first jump advanced to the final. On Thursday, he broke his own national record when he soared past 2.30m at the Singapore Open. His previous best was 2.29m which he set a year ago at the same event. Nauraj will have another chance to go higher when he competes in the 51st Oda Memorial Meet in Hiroshima tomorrow.
Khairul Hafiz Jantan
Khairul Hafiz Jantan, 19 shattered the national 100m record when he clocked 10.18s to win the Malaysia Games gold medal in Kuching. The previous best time was 10.30m by Sarawak’s Watson Nyambek set only July 15, 1998 — a week before Khairul was born! Khairul’s personal best of 21.01s in the 200metres is a Malaysian national junior record. Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan still holds the 200m record of 20.92s which he set at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.
Badrul Hisyam Manap
Badrul Hisyam Abdul Manap, 20, thought he had broken Watson’s 100m record when he clocked 10.29s in November 2015. The time was nullified owing to a lack of wind gauge. It was a double blow as he registered a time of 20.88s in the 200m a month earlier. It was quicker than Jegathesan’s record but this time, the tailwind exceeded the 2m per second limit.
Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli
Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli became Malaysia’s fastest woman after clocking 11.45s in the 100m event at the ASA Speed Series in South Africa last month. The 24-year-old smashed the 11.50s time recorded by G. Shanti in 1993. She had also clocked 11.36s in South Africa a week before breaking the record but once again a strong tailwind meant the time didn’t stand.
G. Aravinn Thevarr
G. Aravin Thevar, 24 has the fourth fastest time in Malaysia’s men’s 200m history when he clocked 21.04s at last year’s Singapore Open Athletics Championships. Only Jegathesan, Badrul Hisyam and Azmi Ibrahim (20.97) have gone faster. In that Singapore Open final, Aravin won gold with a time of 21.07 to show his semifinal time was no flash in a pan.
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