Malaysia flex muscles ahead of 2017 KL SEA Games
For the first time in 16 years, the South-east Asia (SEA) Games will head to Malaysia in August next year.
And the hosts are determined to get it right in track and field.
Judging by their athletes' performances at the 78th Singapore Open Track and Field Championships, they're shaping up just fine.
In the three individual sprint events (100m, 200m and 400m) of the two-day meet at the National Stadium - it also featured athletes from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Macau, among others - the Malaysian took seven podium spots out of a possible 18.
At last year's SEA Games, they only had just one; Shereen Vallabuoy's bronze medal in the 400m.
The improvement is no coincidence.
National sprints head coach Hamberi Mahat told The New Paper the success is because the plan to build towards the 2017 Games is working .
"What better stage to do well than at a SEA Games on home soil," asked the former national sprinter.
"We didn't have a long-term plan before that, so this was the perfect chace to start one.
"We officially started the programme in September last year, but the Malaysian Athletics Federation laid the groundwork even before that."
Apart from their better-than-expected performances in the sprint events, Malaysians also shone in the field events.
On Thursday, the men's high jump saw Nauraj Singh clinch a spot at the Olympic Games by meeting the qualifying standard of 2.29m, making him Malaysia's first track and field athlete to gain automatic qualification for Rio.
Yesterday, triple jumper Hakimi Ismail won his event with a 16.12m effort. The 2015 SEA Games champion and Games' record holder (16.76m) was a class apart from his nearest challenger, Thailand's Chakkrit Panthsa, who managed 14.70m.
Discus star Irfan Shamsuddin (above), 20, hurled the disc 55.65m to also claim the gold medal.
He has won two SEA Games gold medals back-to-back and seems destined to dominate the event in the region for the next decade.
Said Hamberi: "To be honest, all our athletes are not new.
"Most of them competed at last year's SEA Games.
"But, in terms of times and results, they are all doing much better, and this is all down to the programme we put in place.
"From the KPIs set for us, all our athletes have already met or are close to meeting them, for the first phase of the programme. So I would say we are in good shape."