KUALA LUMPUR: With so many international meets and matches postponed or called off due to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Negri Sembilan Athletic Open has suddenly become the flavour of the week in local sports.
The Negri Open, which will be held at the National Sport Council (NSC) training track in Bukit Jalil because the Paroi Stadium in Seremban is under renovation, will offer a chance for athletes to win places in the Vietnam SEA Games.
All but four of the national athletes are expected to compete in the two-day meet.
The four - Malik Tobias (decathlete), Mohd Zaiful Zainal Abidin (400m), Moh Siew Wei (100m hurdles) and Noraseela Khalid (400m hurdles) - are in Germany for six months of training and competition.
So far, high jumper Loo Kum Zee is the only track and field athlete to have booked his place in the Games. The Ipoh-born Kum Zee cleared 2.14m in a competition in Bukit Jalil in February to beat the qualifying mark of 2.13m.
The 28-year-old was also the first athlete to win a place in the Asian Track and Field (ATF) meet in Manila in September. Kum Zee, who won four golds in four consecutive SEA Games, equalled his own mark of 2.15m – the bronze medal mark of the Colombo meet last year – in a competition in Ipoh last month.
Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) general manager Hamid Barkat said that national athletes competing in the Negri Open would also get to gauge their performances after three months of centralised training.
“The seniors should strive to win places in the SEA Games while the juniors, who are in the 2006 Asian Games project squad, should improve their personal best.
Besides Kum Zee, other KL SEA Games gold medallists taking part are A. Munusamy (1,500m), Teh Weng Chang (pole vault), Wong Tee Kui (hammer) and walker Yuan Yufang.
Besides these senior athletes, veteran long distance runner M. Ramachandran has also confirmed his participation in the 10,000m.
The Johor-born Ramachandran, who turned 37 last month, is still one of the best long distance runners in the country although he pulled out of the last Games with a groin injury.
Hamid added that the MAAU would also use the Negri Open to select a 4x100m relay team.
''At the moment we don't have any good sprinters in the national training squad and we want to assemble a relay team for the Asian Grand Prix circuit and the Asian Track and Field (ATF) in Manila in September,'' said Hamid.
''The quartet of Azmi (Ibrahim), Tan Kok Lim, Nazmizan (Mohamed) and Mohamed Zaiful (Zainal Abidin), who fared poorly in the Busan Asian Games last October, were dropped after they clocked a poor time of 41.20, which was way off the national record of 39.83 set at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 2001.