KHAIRUL Hafiz Jantan is one of several young athletes to explode on the scene over the last two years, giving the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) reason for optimism of a successful Kuala Lumpur Sea Games campaign in August.
But the burden of expectation being placed on the likes of Khairul and hammer thrower Grace Wong to deliver Sea Games gold medals worries national chief coach Zainal Abas.
Zainal, like MAF president Datuk Karim Ibrahim, declined to delve into medal predictions though the consensus appears to be six gold.
After setting the 100m national record of 10.18 seconds at the Malaysia Games last year, Khairul appears to be a strong candidate for the 100m title in August though Zainal said lack of experience on such a big occasion could count against the youngster.
“This will be his first Sea Games and you have to remember he is only 19 years old. An athlete that young requires time to gain maturity and success,” said Zainal recently.
“To list out some of his weaknesses, one could be his lack of experience. We need to give him time to fully develop and be able to compete at international level, and give him the feeling of confidence.
“His emergence is rather sudden and after he broke the national record, everyone immediately expected him to break the record at every race he runs, which is wrong.”
Khairul’s coach Poad Kassim sought to restrain his sprinter from going all out in the build-up to the Sea Games while working in isolation at the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School in Bandar Penawar.
The plan appears to be working well with Poad only wanting Khairul to peak at the Sea Games.
After posting 10.39 seconds during a two-month stint in South Africa earlier this year, Khairul bettered that mark three times in a single day at the Thailand Open last week before winning the final in a season’s best of 10.31s.
That matched the 2017 season best of Sea Games 100m defending champion Eric Cray of the Philippines.
“For Khairul’s long-term development, we have to give him space to record regular and consistent timing before we can expect him to go on to bigger things,” added Zainal.
“This boy is only 19 yet we read news reports saying he will win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In time, I’m sure he will develop into a very good sprinter with the capability of doing the country proud.
“I think he has the talent to become a good sprinter at Asian level but give him time to develop and the coach time to prepare him well with the correct training programme. Then we can see him represent Malaysia for a long time.”
While declining to reveal the target for the Sea Games, Zainal said anyone can make an educated guess.
“The statistics are there on the table, it is up to you make the judgment. But the indications are already there and you know the results of the athletes,” he said.