Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Star : Malaysian swimming is finding its SEA legs

NAYPYITAW: They may have contributed one more gold than what was promised to the National Sports Council (NSC) but this did nothing to hide the fact that the standard of Malaysian swimming has declined compared to our neighbours.

It was only two or three SEA Games back that Malaysia were battling the likes of Singapore for the overall champion’s tag but those days are long gone.

The four gold medals coming from Christina Loh (women’s 100m and 200m breaststroke), Khoo Cai Lin (women’s 800m freestyle) and Daniel Bego (men’s 400m freestyle) put Malaysia in fifth place behind Vietnam (5-5-2), Indonesia (5-6-4), Thailand (7-8-8) and, as expected, Singapore (11-9-10).

There were fewer silver and bronze medals earned this time compared to the last SEA Games where Malaysia took home 5-10-3.

The absence of the experienced Siow Yi Ting meant Malaysia could not mount a challenge for the 200m and 400m individual medley events like in the past SEA Games.

There were only five women swimmers in the team this time and there were no backstrokers and sprinters either.

Swimmers like Cai Lin and Daniel have already contributed gold medals for the last four SEA Games and they are also reaching the twilight of their swimming careers, so it is crucial to blood the next batch of juniors to fill the vacuum when their seniors decide to call it quits in the near future.

But it is not all gloom for Malaysian swimming.

Christina Loh emerged as the new breaststroke queen for the region and showed she can be depended on to maintain Malaysia’s proud record in the discipline.

It is also worth noting that Malaysia have an emerging talent in Yap Siew Hui in the butterfly discipline.

Siew Hui posted a personal best time in nearly snagging a medal in her SEA Games debut in the 100m butterfly.

Only 16, she should be stronger and faster to fight for medals in the next few editions. The region’s top butterfly swimmer Tao Li of Singapore should still be around when her country host the next SEA Games in two years’ time but Siew Hui will be at her peak to challenge for the gold when it is Malaysia’s turn in 2017.

Most encouraging is the fact that there are several youngsters waiting to come up in the Malaysian swimming team.

The likes of Welson Sim, Lim Ching Hwang, Tern Jian Han, Wong Fu Kang and Shaun Yap are in the age bracket of 15-18, so they should be around to make the team for future SEA Games.

There were four or five male sprinters this time around, so it was not surprising that Malaysia clinched two silver medals in both the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle events in new national record times.

Swimming coach Paul Birmingham said it is not just about gold medals; it is also important to look at the bigger picture when assessing the swimmers’ performance at the Games, especially in terms of athlete development.

”We have a lot of young athletes who benefited from going for their first big Games.

”I know everyone is big on the number of gold medals and I understand, but we must look deeper than that.

”I also look closely at individual performances and who can better their personal bests.

”If you keep working on that, eventually at some point, it will hopefully be good enough for gold in future editions.

”A lot of our swimmers are also looking at qualifying for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and they can work towards reaching that as well,” he said.

We are no.1. Amanda Lim of Singapore celebrates after winning the 50m freestyle final to contribute to the republic's 11 gold medal haul at the Myanmar SEA Games to emerge as the top swimming nation. - The STAR

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