ATHLETICS is finally heading in the right direction and the fact that a pool of young talented athletes has emerged augurs well for its future.
The sport was in the doldrums for a long time due to lack of talent, neglected grassroots development, internal politicking, weak management and conflicts with stakeholders and related bodies, like the sports schools, Ministry of Education (MoE) and the National Sports Council (NSC). Now at last, all the parties seem to be in sync, having sorted out their differences and working together to lift the sport.
Whatever the supposed shortcomings of Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) president Datuk Karim Ibrahim, the national body seems to have got its act together and established a good relationship with the MoE and NSC.
Dr Mehander Singh, director of sports at the MoE, who took office last October, has been a breath of fresh air and is truly sports oriented. He is certainly the right man to helm sports in schools, having graduated as a teacher with a physical and health education certificate in 1980 and attained his bachelor’s degree in the same field in 1988, a master’s degree in education (curriculum and instruction) from the University of Houston in 1995 and finally his doctorate from Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2005.
The 56-year-old was deputy director of Raja Melewar Teachers Education Institute for four years before assuming duties with the MoE. He had also served with the ministry as the head assistant director of the sports division for six months from 2010.
And now, with Zainal Abas, the athletics head coach of the SEA Games 2017 project and former teacher and athletics coach with the Bukit Jalil Sports School, as the assistant director, Mehandar looks set to take not only athletics but also sports in schools to the desired level.
Additionally, there is Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail, who has been the director-general of the NSC from December 2014. He has vast experience in the development of sports, having started off as an officer in the athletes’ preparation unit in 1988 and rising to the director of the unit in 2007. He was also directly involved in the Jaya 98, Gemilang 2001 and Doha 2006 programmes. With such professionalism, things are indeed looking up for athletics.
We must not forget the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) in Bandar Penawar, Johor, which is on a par with the more famous Bukit Jalil Sports School and which, under the able leadership of headmaster Suhaimi Sun Abdullah, is factory to a lot of talented athletes.
Coaches like Poad Kassim and teachers in the various states too have played a role in the revival of athletics in this country.
It must be noted that the MAF has appointed a new breed of coaches for the 2017 SEA Games project, who include former national athlete Josephine Mary (400m women/relay), Hamberi Mahat (400m men/relay), Entheran Subramaniam (middle/long distance), Teh Weng Chang (pole vault), Shahadan Jamaluddin (hurdles), Balamurugan Maniam (short sprints) and Lim Teoh Boon (walking).
Foreigners, such as Alex Stewart (high jump), Samuel Kipsang Rono (middle and long distance) and Leo Almando Brown (sprints and hurdles) who have come aboard recently, and Gu Yuan (hammer throw), Franstisek Petrovic (discus), and Victor Sotnikov and Alim Akhmejanov (jumps), have also been coaching in Malaysia for some time now, are playing a role in the rise of the sport.
The happy result of all these efforts has been a new and young crop of athletes who are already making their mark.
When asked for his comments, athletics icon Tan Sri Dr M Jegathesan observed: “It reminds me of my running days in the 1960s when we had a big pool of athletes who were all of calibre and who went on to make their mark.
“Currently, we have a handful of talented athletes and it is important that they are guided well and given the best training and exposure to realise their true potential.”
While high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa, who qualified on merit to attend the Rio Olympics in July, is the latest sensation in the field, there many other athletes waiting to exhale. Names that come to mind include Arvinn Thevarr (200m), Jackie Wong Siew Cheer (hammer throw), Hakimi Ismail (triple jump) middle-distance runners M. Kesavan, Asif Rahman Jiyaudee, Putra Azrul Shazwan Azman and Shreen Samson Vallabouy, and 4 X 100m women’s relay runners S. Komalam Shally, Siti Fatima Mohamad, Zaidatul Husniah Zulki and Nurul Faizal Azma Mazlan.
Then we have athletes from SSTMI like sprinters Badrul Hisyam Abdul Manap and Muhammad Haiqal Hanafi, their relay teammates Muhammad Azam Masri, Muhammad Nazreen Ezat Che Hassan, Khairul Hafiz Jantan and Asnawai Hashim and middle-distance runner Muhammad Saiful Safwan Saifuddin. Among the women, we have sprinter Nor Aliyah Abdul Rahman and middle-distance runners J. Puspa Letchumy and Faradilah Raznie.
Rising school athletes comprise Grace Wong Xiu Mei and Ngu Ing Biao (hammer throw), A. Manissha (2,000m steeplechase), Nurhashima Shahril (shot putt), Chan Sau Mun (pole vault) and Eizlan Dahalan (high jump), to name but a few.
The young ones having already made an impact at the Singapore SEA Games, Philippines Open, Asean Schools Games and the South East Asian youth championship in Thailand.
Sherren and Nurul Faizal were placed second and third the Taiwan Open 400m final yesterday.
Vietnam’s Thi Ngoc Hoang took first place in 53.79s while Shereen, who is running in her first international event since last year’s Sea Games in Singapore where she won the bronze medal with her personal best of 54.26, clocked 55.28s yesterday. Nurul Faizal finished 55.72s.
Our young athletes could create more headlines at the Asian Junior championship in Vietnam, and the Kazakhstan and Hong Kong Opens next month.
There is a lot of promise in athletics at the moment but the key thing is for everyone concerned to not lose their focus and keep their eyes on their goals.
SEA GAMES 2017 1st phase programme (Sept 2015- Sept 2016) list of athletes:
1. Adi Aliffuddin Hussin 2. Ahmad Luth Hamizan 3. G Aravin Thevarr 4. Abdrul Hisyam Abdul Manap 5. K. Dinesh 6. Harith Ammar Mohd Sobri 7. Iskandar Alwi 8. Jackei Wong Siew Cheer 9. Johathan Nyepa 10 M. Kesavan 11. Mohamad Arif Zulhilmi Alet 12. Mohamad Shamrin Mohd Aris 13. Mohd Izzuddin Yahaya 14. Mohd Shamimi Azmi 15. Muhaad Firdaus Musa 16. Muhammad Azam Masri 17. Muhammad Hakimi Ismail 18. Muhammad Irfan Shamsuddin 19. Muhammad Khairul Harith Harun 20. Muhammed Ashraff Saiou Rahman 21. Muhd Ajmal Aiman Mat Hassan 22. Nauraj Singh Randhawa 23. Nixson Kennedy 24. Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian 25 Russel Alexander Nasir Taib
1. Bibi Nuraishah Ishak 2. Chuah Yu Tian 3. Elena Goh Ling Yin 4. Fatin Faqihah Mohd Yusof 5. Grace Wong Xiu Mei 6. Kirthana Ramasamy 7. Komalam Shally Selvaretnam 8. Ku Munirah Ku Zamzuri 9. Noor Amira Mohamad Nafiah 10. Nor Shahidatun Nadia Mohd Zuki 11. Norris Foo 12. Nur Fatin Abidah Suharman 13. Nurfazira Jalaludin 14. Nurul Faizah Asma Mazlan 15. Raja Nursheena Raja Azhar 16. Saidatul Izzati Suhaimi 17. Savinder Kau Joginder Singh 18. Shereen Samson Vallabouy 19. Siti Fatima Mohamad 20 Yap Jeng Tzan 21. Yap Sean Yee 22. Zaimah Atifah Zainuddin
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