By AFTAR SINGH
KUALA LUMPUR: Mohd Haiqal Hanafi came like a bolt out of the blue when, as an unheralded and unknown runner, he sprinted to gold and was crowned the fastest man in South-East Asia.
The Philippines SEA Games 100m winner, however, does not intend to be a one-race wonder.
It’s a lesson he has learnt from his training teammate Khairul Hafiz Jantan, who won gold in the men’s 100m in the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 2017 with a time of 10.38.
Last December, Melaka lad Khairul, who holds the national record of 10.18, could not even beat the qualifying mark of 10.42 in the blue-riband event. He only featured in the 4x100m.
“I’m still young and I want to achieve more in life by doing well in competitions. I’m now considered the top sprinter in the region and I’ll focus on clocking even faster times. I want to be remembered as one of the top sprinters in Malaysia, ” said Haiqal.
“My dream is to qualify for the 2024 Olympics Games and, to achieve that, I have to clock close to 10 seconds flat and I have more than three years to achieve it.
“I also want to be the first Malaysian to retain the gold in next year’s SEA Games. It will be tough but not impossible, ” said Haiqal.
“I have learnt a lesson from Khairul, who was the show stopper at the KL Games but failed to even qualify for the Philippines SEA Games, ” said Haiqal, who is doing a pre-university course at the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) in Johor.
“Khairul, however, is my idol. He created history by becoming the youngest Malaysian to win the SEA Games gold when he was just 18.
“I must also thank coach Mohd Poad (Mohd Kassim), who played a big role in helping me become sprint double champion in the 100m and 200m at the Malaysian Closed Championships last August.
“Coach Poad also guided Khairul, ” said Haiqal, who clocked a personal best of 21.20 in the 200m in the Malaysian Closed in Bukit Jalil.
“I now want coach Poad to help me be among the top sprinters in Asia. I know he can. American coach Dwayne Miller, who has been the technical director since last November, is also willing to help me to improve my personal best, ” said Haiqal, who is now quite concerned over the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I was supposed to compete in the Melaka Open (on March 28-29) to challenge Khairul but that was called off. My planned training stint in Australia is also off. I hope the situation will improve so I can start competing again and get back on track with my ambitions.”
If there is one good news for Haiqal, it is that the Tokyo Olympics has been put off to next year. He is holding out hope that he can qualify, given the time.
“My main challenge is to continue improving my personal best to break the national record of 10.18, ” said Haiqal, only the fifth Malaysian to win the SEA Games gold.
Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan was the first to win – at the 1965 KL SEA Games – followed by G. Rajalingam (1967, Bangkok) and Nazmizam Mohamed (2003, Vietnam).
In the Philippines, the Negri Sembilan-born lad, who only replaced injured Mohd Zulfiqar Ismail a month before the SEA Games, defied the odds and more fancied opponents to win gold with a 10.35 run.
Now Haiqal, who will turn 21 on April 29, will have to get down to the nuts and bolts to ensure he is still in the reckoning at the next Games.