AT first, Jironi Riduan thought he had missed his chance to become Malaysia’s first Sea Games middle distance double champion in 30 years yesterday.
Having won the 800m gold medal two days earlier, the school teacher from Sarawak was bitterly disappointed when the scoreboard flashed his name in second place despite having the same time as Vietnam’s Duong Van Thai in the 1,500m final.
More than an hour later though, Jironi was declared joint-gold medallist with Van Thai in a deadheat after the photo-finish could not separate the two runners even down to the thousandth of a second.
He thus became the first Malaysian to do the 800m-1,500m double since B. Rajakumar in 1983 and ended Malaysia’s 12-year gold drought in the 1,500m since A. Munusamy’s 2001 victory.
Jironi, who has decided to call time on his track career to move up to marathon running, said he could not believe his luck after waiting anxiously for the decision.
“I was really disappointed to miss out on the gold at first but after they did the photo-finish review and awarded me the gold medal, I feel really happy,” said Jironi, 27, of the decision by team manager Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh to seek the review.
“This does not change my decision to quit the track. I decided that no matter what happened, this would be my last Sea Games on track.
“Maybe I might return in the marathon, who knows? But I want to concentrate on my teaching career and coaching,” added Jironi, who hopes to make his marathon debut at the KL Marathon next year.
Jironi started the 1,500m race having snatched the 800m gold from his Vietnamese rival and let teammate M. Kesavan pace the pack.
At the bell, Jironi was sixth but quickly moved up to third and still had some ground to make on Van Thai turning the final bend.
A sudden burst of speed, however, allowed Jironi to catch Van Thai on the line for the first deadheat in the history of Sea Games athletics.
“I did not win a medal in 2011 so this time I really wanted to win gold,” said Jironi, who also has two silver from 2009 and one bronze medal from 2007. “I am really happy to have won two gold medals and contribute to the national contingent’s tally.”