KUALA LUMPUR: Paralympics 100m gold medallist Mohd Ridzuan Puzi has done it all – he has won gold in the 2015 world para athletics championships in Doha, Qatar, and also in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But he could not defend his gold in the world meet in 2017 and had to settle for silver in London – a sure sign that he is slowing down with age.
He is not alone. Quite a number of the para track and field athletes are aging, and their exit soon would mark the end of a golden era in para sports.
National para athletics chief coach R. Jaganathan has to rebuild now and is on lookout for new talent to replace the aging athletes.
Ridzuan, from Perlis, who won gold in the men’s 100m T36 (cerebral palsy) in the world meet in Doha, Qatar, and the Olympics, will celebrate his 33rd birthday in September, making him the oldest of the top para athletes.
The other para track and field athletes who are already past 30 are 400m runner Siti Noor Iasah Mohd Ariffin and sprinter Ahmad Solihim Mohd Nor.
Iasah, the mother of a child, just missed out on bronze in the women’s 400m T20 (intellectual impairment) in the Rio Paralympics but made amends by winning the 2018 Asian Para Games gold in record time. She will turn 31 in September.
Ahmad Solihim, who won gold in 100m T45-46 (amputation and others, including athletes of short stature) at the Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, is already 31.
Jaganathan admitted that there were concerns that athletes like Ridzuan, Iasah and Solihim could only be around for a few more years.
“We need to look for new talent which we need to develop into world class athletes to replace the aging athletes. We want to continue to produce para athletes to win medals at major competitions like the World Championships and Paralympics, ” said Jaganathan.
Jaganathan, however, has to wait until next year as there are no competitions this year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Asean Para Games, which was supposed to be held in the Philippines in October, have been cancelled.
The coach said they had planned to use the Para Sukma (Malaysia Games) in August to look for new athletes.
“But the Games have been postponed to March next year. To make matter worse, we are not expected to have any competitions this year due to Covid-19. We just have to wait until next year, ” said Jaganathan.
There are 30 men and women para track and field athletes in the national training squad but they have yet to take part in any competition this year.
“The para athletes are training at home and we hope they will start their training at the National Sports Council (NSC) in Bukit Jalil by next month, ” said Jaganathan.
Did you find this article insightful?
100% readers found this article insightful