Athletics and swimming combined offers more than 80 gold medals at the SEA Games. This does not include the medals offered in diving, water polo and synchronized swimming events.
Doing well in both this events is crucial for any nation that wants to do well at the Games. Over the past two decades, Singapore have been masters at the pool. In Manila, they grabbed 23 gold medals, more than 40% of their total medal haul in all sports.
Malaysia’s performance at the pool as well as at the track and field events has been poor since 2001.
In the past ten editions of the Games, Malaysia have won only 62 gold out of 460 at stake in athletics and just 56 of the 341 offered at the swimming pool.
At the Manila SEA Games, Malaysia managed a measly two gold medals in swimming and five in athletics.
Malaysia has the state-of-the-art facilities for both swimming and athletics. Add to it the financial support from the National Sports Council (NSC) and the scientific support from the National Sports Institute (NSI).
Malaysia should be doing much better than the results in Manila, but it has not been able to produce the athletes to match it.
It is an enigma that the governing bodies as well as the NSC and NSI need to solve soon.
Perhaps one way forward would be to study how Vietnam have reinvented themselves from mere bystanders to powerhouses in both sports.
In 2001, the Vietnamese managed only three gold medals in athletics and none in swimming. They have overtaken Thailand as the regional leaders in athletics and second only to Singapore in swimming.
At the Manila Games, they won 16 gold medals in athletics, four more than Thailand and just one short of their haul the previous year. While Malaysian have be obsessed with the shorter sprints, the Vietnamese were raking in the medals in both the middle distance and long distance events.
With the likes of Suong Van Thai, Nguyen Thi Oanh and Le Tu Chinh, the Vietnamese would probably rule athletics again when they host the Games in 2021.
While Malaysia’s five gold haul is being hailed as a moderate success, we have but only a handful of truly world class athletes in high jumpers Lee Hup Wei and Nauraj Singh Randawa. Andre Anura’s 8.02 long jump silver is the only other noteworthy Malaysian athlete.
In swimming, Vietnam have consistently clinched 10 gold medals at the last three Games. In Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, they have a swimmer that can continue to dominate the pool. She won six gold medals in Manila – 200m and 400m freestyle, 100m and 200m backstroke as well as the 200m and 400m individual medley.
And supported by the likes of doubles gold medallists Nguyen Huy Hoang, Nguyen Tran Hung, Vietnam has what it takes to challenge Singapore for dominance in the near future.
Malaysia’s advantage in the diving competition is not going to help to boost their SEA Games medal by much as it did during the KL Games two years ago. Hosting the Games, Malaysia included 13 events in diving and won 12 of them, thirteen if not for the doping offence by Ng Yan Yee which saw Malaysia stripped of the gold in the women’s synchronized 3 meter springboard.
Philippines did not see any reason as to why 13 diving medals should be offered in Manila and it is almost certain that future hosts including Vietnam would take the same stance. This being the case, it is all the more important, that the compulsory swimming events should be at the top of Malaysian priority.
In Phee Jinq En, Malaysia has at least one swimmer to rely on in the future. But the lass, who won two golds, including the 100m breaststroke in a Games record, should not be the only swimmer that Malaysia can trust in.
Welson Sim won two gold medals At the KL Games, but could only muster two silvers in Manila, indicating the others have already caught up with him.
Malaysia would be shortchanging itself if they only target on winning medals at the future SEA Games. The target should be first to ensure that our athletes and swimmers are able to set noteworthy times in their respective events. At least 20 Malaysian records each in swimming and athletics are at 10 years old or older.
We are still chasing for medals at the lowest ranked multi-sports event when we should be setting much higher targets.
Winning the football gold or the 100m dash may be glamorous. But without performing in the marquee events of athletics and swimming, Malaysia cannot truly claim to be a sporting nation.
For now Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia have more rights to that claim. After all, they can boast of having Olympic gold medallists with them, a honour Malaysians are still chasing.