Flag bearer Ziyad Zolkefli and chef-de-mission Datuk Zakaria Musa (left) with the Malaysian contingent during the Para Asean Games flag-handing ceremony held at the Palm Garden Hotel in Putrajaya.
PUTRAJAYA: Para-athlete Ziyad Zolkefli is all pumped up after his appointment as the country’s flag bearer for the Para Asean Games at Naypyitaw in Myanmar from Jan 14-20.
Buoyed by the recognition and honour of leading the 151-member contingent, he has set his sights on breaking two records in athletics en route to keeping the national flag flying high in Naypyitaw.
And that is not his sole mission; he has vowed to inspire his team-mates to meet the 50-gold medal target set by the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (PCM) for the biennial Games.
On Thursday, the 23-year-old reigning world champion received the Jalur Gemilang from Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin at the Palm Garden Hotel, where the national team have set up their centralised camp.
Ziyad was the perfect choice for the job based on his excellent showing over the last one-and-a-half years. At the 2012 London Olympic Games, he bagged a bronze medal in the F20 category (cognitive disability) shot putt event with a distance of 15.21m.
And last year, he showed his prowess once again when he became the world champion in the same category in the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Athletics Championships in Lyon, France.
He nailed the gold with his best distance of 15.32m, even performing better than world record holder Todd Hodgetts of Australia.
Ziyad, who is back on his feet after struggling with a knee injury two months ago, said he was looking forward to a good showing.
“I was quite nervous today when I received the flag from the minister. There is a heavy burden being the flag bearer; much is expected from me and my team-mates,” admitted Ziyad.
“But we have worked very hard and with so much of support and encouragement from all, we will surely be out to meet the 50-gold medal target.
“In athletics alone, the team is expected to deliver 32 gold medals. I will be taking part in three events - shot putt, discuss and javelin. I won two gold medals and one silver at the last Games (in Solo, Indonesia, in 2011) and I will do my best to do better this time.
“I am aiming to break my personal best in two events - my pet event shot putt and the discus.”
“Two months ago, my preparations took a blow when I picked up a knee injury. It makes it even harder to train but I refuse to give up. I went for treatment and the knee is in better shape now.”
If Ziyad wins three gold medals, he is set to take home RM40,000 as an incentive from the government. Khairy made a decision last year to reward both able and disabled athletes the same amount of incentive for all Games.
For the Para Asean Games and SEA Games, a gold medal is worth RM20,000. The subsequent gold medal won by the same athlete is worth RM10,000.
For the record, Malaysia will be taking part in 205 events in 11 out of 12 sports contested at the Para Asean Games. The 50 gold medals targeted are from athletics (32), swimming (6) table tennis (3), powerlifting (3), chess (2), archery (2) and boccia (2). The chef-de-mission is Datuk Zakaria Musa.