Aiming For Gold In The 2020 Olympic: Expert Explains What Makes The Podium Programme Different

EARLIER this month, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin launched the Podium Programme – an initiative under the Youth and Sports Ministry’s High Performance Framework, which aims to produce consistent and sustainable podium finishes for Malaysian athletes.

Source: Aiming For Gold In The 2020 Olympic: Expert Explains What Makes The Podium Programme Different

EARLIER this month, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin launched the Podium Programme – an initiative  under the Youth and Sports Ministry’s High Performance Framework, which aims to produce consistent and sustainable podium finishes for Malaysian athletes.

“No athlete can take his or her place in the programme for granted and there’s always a chance for the other sports to be included later. The Podium Programme is about high performance. There needs to be a deliberate and concerted effort to move the eco-system to the future,” said Khairy in launching the programme.

However, critics have been quick to pounce on the Podium Programme, with its targets coming under the microscope in which Khairy said include winning Malaysia’s first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, as well as restoring the nation’s top 10 standing at the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.

A question that Malaysians have asked is why is it that gold in the Olympics is targeted to 2020 when the Rio 2016 is fast approaching. It is a valid question but does Malaysia have a prospect for winning Olympic gold in 2020?

Malaysian Digest spoke to former Chief Executive Officer of National Sports Institute (NSI) Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz, who currently serves as an advisor to Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and consultant of sports medicine.

A Potential Game Changer 

The programme is one of the eight initiatives under the Youth and Sports Ministry’s High Performance Framework, which aims to produce consistent and sustainable podium finishes for Malaysian athletes in the international arena.

The programme will involve 97 athletes and 36 coaches from 21 sports in which total expenditure for the programme is RM75 million for one year based on allocation given by the government in the 2016 Budget tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak last October.

The athletes selected for the programme are Datuk Lee Chong Wei (badminton), Datuk Nicol David (squash), Mohd Azizulhasni Awang (cycling), Pandelela Rinong (diving), and Mohd Hafifi Mansor (weightlifting), among others. From the 97 athletes, 27 of them are para-athletes from archery, athletics, badminton, cycling, swimming, sailing and powerlifting.

Khairy mooted the idea for the programme after Malaysia failed to achieve the targeted gold medal hauls at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Incheon Asian Games in 2014.

Our country bagged six golds at the Commonwealth Games – one short of the targeted seven – and finished below neighbours Singapore in the overall medal standings for the first time in which Singapore won eight golds.

Similarly, in the same year, our contingents aimed for eight gold medals in Incheon but only managed five. This led to National Sports Council (NSC) director general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong being replaced by Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail.

Those selected for the programme, which will not have more than 150 athletes, will not just enjoy much better perks but will also get to compete in more tournaments and gain access to full sports science support.

New Approach In Malaysian Sports Management

Ramlan: "Through this programme, we are not merely doing the best we can, but the best possible."Ramlan: “Through this programme, we are not merely doing the best we can, but the best possible.”In an interview with Malaysian Digest, former Chief Executive Officer of National Sports Institute (NSI) Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz (pic) explained in great detail how the Podium Programme is different.

Dr Ramlan said the programme should be regarded as the first step to enhance the performance of Malaysian athletes in the long run by identifying and producing world-class athletes.

“Members of the public should not look at the podium programme as something we cooked up in our kitchen. In fact, the programme is designed based on the world standard. This is how it is done all over the world, including some Western countries such as England and Australia.

“There are two areas in the podium programme namely programme management and performance management. The programme is a brand new approach in Malaysian sports management.

“It has not been done previously as it is fundamentally different from the previous ones,” he said.

Dr Ramlan said that the programme management is handled by National Sports Council (NSC) for all Malaysian athletes up to Sea Games level, whereas National Sports Institute (NSI) will be responsible for the performance management.

“Besides, we will also focus on several strategic areas namely research and innovation in sports, peak performances, grassroots talent development, advanced sports education and zero tolerance in doping, among others,” he pointed out.

“For many years, we find that sometimes when we do something which is handled by different entities, teething troubles such as miscommunication tends to crop up. That is the reason why the ministry has decided to have us integrated into one entity in what we call combined high performance team so that everything is organized and coordinated,” he said.

“This allows us to closely monitor the progress of the programme and to make things sustainable. When something goes wrong, we will know how to manage it, and vice versa. Through this programme, we are not merely doing the best we can, but the best possible,” he added.

“The Only Thing Which Is Unrealistic Is That We Never Try”

It all boils down to this question: does Malaysia have athletes who can win Olympic gold in a not-too-distant future?

Commenting on this matter, Dr Ramlan, said: “This question itself shows that we are in self-doubt and pessimistic about the abilities of our own athletes. Instead, we should be grateful that our Youth and Sports Minister has the vision as well as the gumption to put this [programme] through.”

“We don’t deny that we must have realistic targets and hence, I must say that the programme would take time to bear results.

“That is why we do not expect it would have a direct impact on athletes’ performance in the upcoming Olympic Games,” he told Malaysian Digest.

Dr Ramlan, who had previously served as the team doctor for national teams at international competitions such as Olympics Games, further remarked: “At NSI, we can certainly help our athletes, but we cannot give them the desire [to help themselves]. We cannot ask for something which is more than the athletes themselves.”

“Everyone should play their role in realizing the dream to win Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal. We should not depend solely on the National Sports Council or the athletes themselves,” he stressed.

“Instead of asking whether it is realistic for Malaysia to win first Olympic gold medal by 2020, we should instead focus on the right things in order to make it happens. This is because the only thing, which is unrealistic, is that we never try,” he added.

Million Dollar Programmes Designed To Win More Medals Generates Results

There is no escaping the fact that China has invested vast sums of money and resources into generating sporting superstars with nearly 3,000 dedicated sports training centres around the country.

Sky News had featured a report about how China has invested vast sums of money and resources into youngsters whose entire lives are dedicated to a training programme with just one aim – to see the Chinese flag dominate the winners’ podium.

“Finding that one star of a generation is like mining for gold – it’s drummed into these children they have to push themselves – because there’s always someone prepared to work harder,” Sky News reports.

China’s investment paid off in Beijing four years ago when it won the most gold with 51 gold medals.

Canada had launched its own ‘Own the Podium’ programme in the lead up to the previous Beijing Olympics, focusing primarily on the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

“Under the “Own the Podium” banner, CAD$64 million is allocated each year to athletes and teams viewed as having the best chances at clinching Olympic medals — an approach known as “targeted excellence,” Canada’s National Post reported last December.

The report highlighted that the targeted funding has led to tangible results, such as the record 14 gold medals won during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver with Canada’s overall medal count in the last three winter Olympics significantly higher.

8-time world squash champion Datuk Nicol David recently dealt with the heartbreak that squash will not be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She had shared in an interview last month on MaestroSquashTV on what it takes to maintain your position as the best player in the world for such a long time.

“I first got involved when I was around five. I was always running around and a squash court was the only way of keeping me in one place. They just locked the door and gave me a racket and a ball.

“It was great, they always went on court with me when I wanted to practice, even though they were bigger and stronger than me,” she said of her early years playing with her 2 sisters.

“But I think the breakthrough moment for me was moving to Amsterdam and working with Liz. She gave me a great insight into the sport. She opened my mind up in completely different dimensions.

“To be the best you have to be totally open. Sometimes you have to break things down and start from nothing. I worked on my strengths and Liz changed my movements and I knew if I stuck to this I would go places in the sport.

“I try to watch clips from the best players in all sports, to see what they do to keep up their intensity and to try take that into my own game,” she revealed about the hard work and total dedication that got her to the top of world rankings.

As Dr Ramlan so aptly put it: “We need to change the mindset of Malaysians when it comes to sports. This is because many are least interested in this area. In order for Malaysia to succeed in sports, it has to start from the home and school. In the meanwhile, the role of parents and teachers cannot be overlooked as they play a crucial part in educating the general public.”

-mD