NAYPYITAW: Singapore, spearheaded by their United States-based star Joseph Schooling, have boldly declared their intention to secure half of the 32 gold medals at stake in swimming at the Myanmar SEA Games.
But Malaysia are quietly hoping to steal their thunder by winning one of the coveted relay gold medals from Singapore when the pool action begins at the Wunna Theikdi Aquatic Centre on Thursday.
The men’s 4x200m freestyle is where Malaysia possibly stands a real chance to strike gold to end a drought dating to the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
|Kevin Yeap in a file photo. He will be looking to defend his 400m freestyle title at the SEA Games.|
That was the last time Malaysia tasted victory in the relays through the fabulous foursome of Alex Lim Keng Liat, Elvin Chia, Anthony Ang and Allen Ong in men’s 4x100m medley.
This time, coach Paul Birmingham has lined up Daniel Bego, Lim Ching Hwang, Kevin Yeap and Welson Sim for the bid to wrest the gold from defending champions Singapore.
The current SEA Games record of 7:30.73 for the event is also held by Singapore and that will have to fall as well if Malaysia are to have any chance of taking the gold.
Swimmer Kevin Yeap is optimistic Malaysia have what it takes to challenge the mighty Singaporeans if they can rewrite the national record for the third time this year.
The quartet of Vernon Lee, Ching Hwang, Welson and Tern Jian Han clocked 7:33.33 en route to ninth placing at the World Youth Championships in Dubai in August.
That record only lasted a month as Welson, Vernon, Kevin and Yeap Zheng Yang later posted 7:31.44 to take gold at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Indonesia.
”With Daniel and Ching Hwang (who is the Asian Youth Games gold medallist for 200m freestyle and based in Singapore) in the team, we have a strong combination.
”I think our national record is definitely going to fall and we hope it will come with the gold medal for us as well.
“Singapore have been the favourites as they have the depth of swimmers but we are not bad either this time.
”I think we have four or five swimmers in the team who can do a good 200m freestyle time.
”It will be good for the confidence of the whole swimmming team if we take gold on the opening day,” said Kevin, who will also be looking to successfully defend his 400m freestyle title two days later.
Apart from the fact that the swimmers will have to brave the chills to walk a short distance from the warm-up pool located across from the competition pool, it is all systems go for the team.
Coach Birmingham is anticipating competition to be much tougher compared to the last edition of the Games.
The three gold target set by the National Sports Council is reachable for his charges but he has warned not to expect much more than that.
”In the past we have been a bit more generous in giving swimmers who did not meet the qualifying time a chance to go for the exposure but we have been tougher this time.
”We have a small team this year who have all met the qualifying time.
”However, despite meeting the silver medal time of the last Games, it will not be easy for them to win or even match that this year.
”I think that is a telling statistic of how much the sport has grown over the years.
”There are a lot of competitive swimmers across all the competing nations.
”What tends to happen at the SEA Games is that there are always one or two star athletes for each edition.
”This year, there is one girl from Vietnam (Nguyen Thi Anh Vien) who is doing very well and has peaked at the right time given her age. I think she will win five or six gold medals.
”Singapore have Tao Li and Joseph Schooling and they tend to dominate a lot of the events so to get gold is difficult.
”But having said that, we do have a few people who are in a good position to get gold.
”If everything goes perfectly well, we could probably win one or two more but there are a lot of ‘if’s’ there,” he added.
The Malaysian swimmers won 5-10-3 at the 2011 edition in Indonesia.