Malaysia's SEA Games athletes on track
Sprints coach Nazmizan says 2017 SEA Games programme working well
The Malaysians mean business.
Three months after a strong showing in the sprint events at the Singapore Open, their athletes claimed a 100m double on the first day of track and field action at the 18th Asean University Games (AUG) at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium yesterday.
Jonathan Nyepa, 20, grabbed the men's gold with a time of 10.52sec, while 23-year-old Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli won the women's race in 11.94sec.
At the 78th Singapore Open Track and Field Championships in April, Malaysian athletes took seven podium spots out of a possible 18 in the three individual sprint events (100m, 200m and 400m) that also featured competitors from Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Macau, among others.
Malaysia's sprints coach Nazmizan Muhammad, once nicknamed "Raja Pecut" (Sprint King in Malay) after his 100m and 200m golden double at the 2003 SEA Games in Vietnam, said his country is eager to get it right ahead of a big year in 2017.
"All our athletes at the AUG are on our programme for next year's SEA Games on home soil," said the 35-year-old.
"We officially started the programme in September last year and athletes have to meet specific marks every six months, or else they will be out.
"We've seen a lot of our athletes improve their performances after being on our programme."
Kedah native Zaidatul, who will travel to the Rio Olympics next month on a wildcard slot, said: "We are eager to make sure our preparations for next year's SEA Games are done the best way possible.
"Malaysian track and field has not had the best of times for a long time, so we hope to achieve a historic performance in Kuala Lumpur next year."
On a wet track and in humid conditions yesterday, Singapore's two sprinters in the men's 100m final finished some way behind Nyepa.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) duo Timothee Yap (10.88sec) and Calvin Kang (10.91sec) finished fifth and seventh, respectively.
Both will have one more race tomorrow - as part of the men's 4x100m relay team - before Yap heads to Rio, like Zaidatul, also on a wildcard slot.
The 21-year old, whose personal best in the 100m is 10.62sec, said: "To be honest, I'm not very happy with the time today, which is one of my slowest of the season, but I'm not too bothered by it because the conditions today weren't ideal.
"Overall I'm satisfied I completed the race injury-free, and now I'll work towards Rio and hopefully I can get a personal best there.
"Right now, I feel good, I feel fresh. I think a personal best is a good possibility... Hopefully the competitors around me will push me to achieve it."
Kang, who ran at the 2012 London Olympics as a wildcard, has been playing the role of mentor to Yap.
"This time, they'll have a preliminary round, so that will give him a boost, to run, get his legs ready and accustomed," said the 26-year-old.
"And, given his form, he can make it into the next round, which is the heats.
"In the previous Olympics, it went straight to the heats and, first round, boom, you're out.
"So hopefully, with two runs, it will help him better his time."