PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian men’s recurve archery team have secured their first podium finish in nearly two years after being assured of winning a bronze in the first leg of the Asia Cup in Gwangju, South Korea.
This comes after the already-depleted contest had been reduced further to just three teams as world No. 16 Kazakhstan did not turn up for the meet, although they have initially submitted their entries.
World No. 20 Malaysia will now take on No. 4 South Korea and No. 19 Japan for the title.
Making their first international appearance in 15 months, the trio of Khairul Anuar Mohamed, Zarif Syahiir Zolkepeli and Akmal Nor Hasrin showed no sign of rustiness to post a creditable 2, 003 total in yesterday’s ranking round.
It was only the third time in the last 10 appearances that Khairul and teammates had breached the 2, 000-point barrier in the ranking round.
This certainly augurs well for Lee Jae-hyung’s charges ahead of next week’s all-important Final Qualification Tournament (FQT) for the Tokyo Olympics.
Reigning Olympic champions South Korea, represented by Kim Woo-jin, Kim Je-deok and Oh Jin-hyek, flexed their muscles as usual by topping the chart with a sizzling 2, 068, way ahead of second-placed Japan (2, 029) led by London Olympics individual silver medallist Takaharu Furukawa.
Malaysia will face Japan in the semi-final tomorrow with the match winners to take on South Korea for the gold.
The last time Malaysia won a medal was when they came in third in the third leg of the Asia Cup in Clark, the Philippines, in September 2019.
Since then, they returned empty-handed from the next three events - the Philippines SEA Games and Asian Championships in 2019, and the first leg of the Asia Cup in Bangkok in March last year.
Zarif, who combined with Khairul and Akmal the last time they stepped on the podium in Clark, has vowed to go one better.
“It’s been a while since we’re out for a tournament abroad, and I was quite nervous at the start, ” said Zarif, who made the second-best individual effort of 671 behind Khairul’s 674.
“But I’m quite happy and satisfied with how things panned out in the end. I didn’t expect to shoot this good score.
“Hopefully, we can get the better of Japan and earn the right to take on the mighty Koreans. Japan, of course, are also formidable opponents but if we’re able to replicate our shooting form today, then we stand a chance against them.”
The Malaysian trio will also take part in the individual competition.
World Championships individual silver medallist Khairul will open his campaign against Prodipta Chakma of Bangladesh, while Zarif and Akmal face Robert Nam of Tajikistan and Japan’s Hiroki Muto respectively.