Hail Khairul the new sprint king
Teenager backed by his coach to break 10-sec barrier and qualify for 2020 Olympics
A kampung boy from Melaka became the fastest man in South-east Asia last night.
Exactly a month after turning 19, Malaysian sprint wunderkind Khairul Hafiz Jantan became a national hero after he captured the men's 100m SEA Games gold with a blistering 10.38sec run at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
He edged out 2015 champion Eric Cray of the Philippines (10.43), who clinched the silver ahead of Thailand's Kritsada Namsuwun on a photo-finish.
Khairul was so elated after crossing the finish line first that he lost his footing and took a tumble.
But it didn't matter to the teenager, who got back on his feet before kneeling down in prayer for the win.
He then draped a Malaysia flag over his shoulders and sought out his coach, Poad Kassim, with whom he shared a long, emotional embrace.
Poad, a bespectacled man with wispy, thinning hair and a goatee, had discovered Khairul as a 15-year-old at a local district meet, and invited him to train under him at the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School in Johor.
Khairul reveres his coach, whom he calls "cikgu" (teacher in Malay).
Poad was still emotional when he spoke to The New Paper an hour after the blue-riband race.
Voice trembling, he said: "I'm filled with gratitude to God for this win... I cannot describe how happy I am.
"Ever since I first saw Khairul when he was 15, I knew he had the potential to go far.
"I hope this win will now help open doors for him to train overseas with world-class athletes and continue to progress."
Poad has been backing Khairul to break the 10-second barrier and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on merit.
Khairul holds Malaysia's national record of 10.18sec in the 100m.
After Khairul shared the poignant moment with his coach, he went on a victory lap, then up to the VIP box to meet Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak and Sultan of Selangor Sharafuddin Idris Shah.
He later led the partisan crowd inside the Bukit Jalil Stadium in chants of "Malaysia Boleh" from the podium with a mic, with the gold medal hanging from his neck.
Moments earlier, Cray had slinked away from that same podium after receiving his silver medal.
The 28-year-old Filipino-American had also tasted gold after victory in the men's 400m hurdles race just an hour before the 100m event.
But those exertions clearly had their effect on the Texas-based sprinter, who rued finishing second-best in the "big one".
His desperate dip at the end was not enough to finish ahead of Khairul, who had raised his arms in celebration even before his body crossed the line.