NAYPYITAW: Thailand have shown progress in the track and field competition by winning 17 golds and breaking five SEA Games records to become overall champions for a record eight consecutive time.
While 39 Malaysians, comprising 26 men and 13 women athletes, struggled to win four golds – one short of their target.
A total of 45 gold medals were at stake in athletics and Malaysia had a haul of 4-6-3 here, which is their worst ever performance in the history of the Games since 1959.
Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) set a target of seven golds in July but reduced it to five last month and yet they failed to achieve even that.
MAF should take the blame for failing to achieve the target.
SEA Games Athletics Medal Tally
Team manager Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh denied that they had failed in the Games, saying MAF cannot be blamed for failing to achieve the target.
“We are just unlucky to not be able to achieve the five gold medal target,” said Wan Hisham.
“Some of our athletes did really well by breaking four national records but, unfortunately, of that only one managed to win the gold.
“The four are young athletes and they definitely have a bright future. We will be banking on them to deliver the golds in the next SEA Games in Singapore in two years’ time,” said Wan Hisham, who is also the MAF deputy president.
However, Wan Hisham admitted that countries like Thailand and Vietnam have improved a lot and have also broken SEA Games records.
“Thailand and Vietnam are up to the Asian standards while our athletes are still struggling to win golds in the Games.
“We will review the whole training programme structure and also evaluate the athletes’ performance to see how we can help them improve their standard,” said Wan Hisham.
Judging by the performance of the Malaysian athletes in Naypyitaw, none of them can qualify for next year’s Asian Games in Incheon in September.
However, four young male athletes did exceptionally well in Myanmar.
Debutant Mohd Irfan Shamsuddin, at only 18, broke the men’s national discus record by more than three metres to win the gold medal. He hurled a distance of 53.16m, erasing his previous mark of 49.90m to qualify for next year’s World Junior Championships in Oregon, United States.
The 19-year-old Iskandar Alwi of Johor, who made his debut, also rewrote his record in the men’s pole vault with a jump of 5.10m, to improve his old record by nine centimetres to win the silver.
Sarawak’s Jackie Wong Siew Cheer, 21, shattered his own record in the men’s hammer throw with 59.75m, erasing his old mark of 58.52m to bag the bronze.
The 22-year-old Mohd Hakimi Ismail of Perak did exceptionally well to break the 24-year national record of 16.29m in the men’s triple jump with a leap of 16.44m. He also had to settle for the silver.
Nauraj Singh Randhawa, 20, also did well to win gold in the men’s high jump with a height of 2.17m.
But, the toast for Malaysia in athletics was 27-year-old Mohd Jironi Riduan, who did not even qualify for the Games. He did really well to win his first two gold medals in the Games – the men’s 800m and 1,500m.
However, MAF have to look for a replacement for him as Jironi has quit from competing in the middle distance races.
He wants to feature in the marathon from next year.
Malaysia used to dominate the athletics competition in the Games but now they are very far behind their neighbours.
MAF must start cracking their heads to find ways to improve the athletes’ standard in the Games.
They must buck up and learn from neighbours Thailand the ways to improve in athletics.