PETALING JAYA: The national archery team will make an emotional return to competition after a lapse of 15 months when they participate in the first stage of the Asia Cup in Gwangju, South Korea, today.
It came just three weeks after the sudden demise of key member Haziq Kamaruddin due to heart attack.
This was the same tournament, albeit being held in Bangkok in March last year, where Haziq last competed before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the sporting world to a virtual standstill.
Haziq did well to make the last-16 of the individual competition and teamed up with Khairul Anuar Mohamed and Zarif Syahiir Zolkepeli to finish fourth in the team event.
“His (Haziq) absence will be sorely felt. It feels different and incomplete,” admitted teammate Akmal Nor Hasrin, who was Haziq’s hostel roommate since 2015.
“I can’t recall if we have gone to any competition without him.”
This week’s meet will serve as an important warm-up tournament for the trio of Akmal, Khairul and Zarif ahead of next week’s do-or-die mission at the Tokyo Olympics’ Final Qualification Tournament (FQT) in Paris from June 17-21.
Malaysia will be vying for one of three team quotas which are still up for grabs.
To date, only nine nations have qualified – hosts Japan and the eight others were quarter-finalists of the 2019 World Championships in Holland. At the meet, Malaysia failed to qualify for the team event but Khairul secured an individual slot with his silver medal finish.
But it is crucial to qualify for the team event because by doing so, it also earns the nation a maximum of three individual berths.
Head coach Lee Jae-hyung was initially hopeful that his charges could have at least three warm-up tournaments prior to the FQT.
But due to travel restrictions and cancellation of a few tournaments, the team will have to make do with just the Gwangju meet to get themselves ready.
This week’s meet will still be held despite the Covid-19 pandemic and it has attracted just four teams in the recurve event – South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Malaysia.
“It’s important for us to make the most of this week and get our rhythm back. This is our only chance to get things right before heading to Paris,” said Akmal.
“We had internal simulation tournaments several times over the last one year to keep us competitive but it’s a whole new ballgame when it comes to international competition.”