BY LIM TEIK HUAT
SHAH ALAM: The battle for supremacy in the Malaysia Games (Sukma) swimming competition is set to be a two-horse race between Selangor and hosts Sarawak.
This is despite both states not having the services of Rio-bound Olympians Phee Jinq En (Selangor) and Welson Sim (Sarawak) when the swimming competition begins in Kuching this weekend.
That is as good as two gold medals lost for each state.
Due to their status as SEA Games gold medallists in Singapore last year, Welson and Jinq En would have been allowed to only swim in either both the individual or one individual and one relay events at Sukma.
Instead, the duo left for Florida in the United States on Tuesday with national swim coach Paul Birmingham Thomas. They will train there for the next 10 days before heading for Rio de Janeiro for their Olympic debut.
Selangor will surely the presence of Jinq En, who would have been unbeatable in the women’s 50m and 100m breaststroke events.
Selangor claimed the overall swimming title with an 11-18-13 medal haul at the last Sukma in Perlis two years ago, ahead of the Federal Territories (10-6-9) and Sarawak (9-5-3).
But Selangor coach Ong Jin Kooi is hopeful that their 20-swimmer team have what it takes to deliver the goods.
“All our swimmers who won in Perlis can still feature in Kuching. Welson is not defending his men’s 200m and 1,500m freestyle titles, so we hope Yeap Zheng Yang can rise to the occasion,” said Jin Kooi.
“We also hope that Maryann Kok, who’s back from the US, can do well in the shorter sprint events while national swimmer Nadia Adrianna Redza will shine in the women’s middle and long distance events.
“We’d like to finish as overall champions, but it’s going to be tough as Sarawak have good home support.”
Hosts Sarawak will be relying heavily on national swimmers Vernon Lee, Erika Kong and Angela Chieng to deliver the gold medals.
Erika, who won the women’s 200m and 400m individual medley golds in Perlis two years ago, can expect a tougher fight this time with former SEA Games double gold medallist Christina Loh, who has returned from the US to swim for the Federal Territories, in the 50m and 100m breaststroke events.
Angela will be seeking to defend her women’s 200m butterfly as well as 400m and 800m freestyle titles in Kuching while Vernon, who has entered for the men’s 200m apart from defending his 400m freestyle, will be out to show that Sarawak need not depend solely on Welson.