PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s sprinters may not be up to speed to capture the coveted men’s 100m gold medal for the third straight time at the Vietnam SEA Games next month.
Indonesia’s Lalu Mohd Zohri has declared his intention to become the first man in the region to dip under the 10-second mark in Hanoi.
The 21-year-old has not only confirmed that he will be making his SEA Games debut but intends to win the top prize in style by making history.
Lalu skipped the 2019 edition in the Philippines to focus on the Tokyo Olympics last year.
He is seen as the favourite having clocked a blistering 10.03s in 2019 to qualify under category A for the Olympics.
Lalu was the first Indonesian male to win a medal at the IAAF World U-20 Championships in 2018 when he grabbed the gold in the 100m.
Despite recovering from a hamstring injury, Lalu is optimistic about being in top shape in a month’s time for his SEA Games mission.
“I’m currently about 80% of my best form as I’m coming through the recovery phase from my hamstring injury.
“But the doctor said it will take about three more weeks for me to get back to where I was before.
“It’s always my aim to set a high target (going below 10s) as a form of motivation,” said Lalu to local reporters.
Lalu’s optimism about hitting form in Hanoi does not bode well for Malaysia’s chances to keep the 100m title.
At the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, Khairul Hafiz Jantan ended Malaysia’s 14-year wait by capturing the 100m after clocking 10.38.
Then it was the unheralded Haiqal Hanafi who stormed to victory in the Philippines two years later, winning the blue riband event for Malaysia with a time of 10.35s.
Australia-based Russel Alexander Nasir Taib and Arsyad Mohd Saat will lead Malaysia’s charge in Hanoi this time as Haiqal failed to make the cut and will only run in the relay.
However, their times this season won’t put them among the frontrunners for the SEA Games gold.
Russel and Arsyad qualified under category A with times of 10.46 and 10.52 respectively.
Filipino Eric Cray is another one to watch as the 33-year-old will be out to make amends after suffering the ignominy of being disqualified in his home SEA Games for a false start.
Thailand will be counting on teenager Puriphon Boonsorn, who ran a scorching 10.19 to smash the Thai national record recently.
Despite this, national athletics coach Manshahar Abdul Jalil has faith in his sprinters to be on the mark in the 100m.
“We’re not the favourites but that doesn’t mean we can’t win the gold medal,” he said.
“Khairul and Haiqal achieved it in the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games when they were not the favourites.
“Anything can happen during a race, especially in sprint events.’’
Malaysia’s track and field squad are targeting five gold medals in Hanoi.