KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s top junior swimmers, who shone in the just concluded National Age-Group Championships, will not get a chance to strut their stuff in the South-East Asia (SEA) Age-Group Championships in Manila next month.
The regional meet is the latest sports competition to fall victim to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus outbreak.
Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) secretary Edwin Chong confirmed that the organisers have decided to postpone the meet, scheduled to be held from June 6-8, due to the concerns over the SARS outbreak.
And in an effort to make sure the swimmers are not deprived of competition, ASUM plan to bring forward the dates of the Malaysian Open, which is scheduled to be held in Kota Kinabalu this September.
“The South-East Asia Championships will probably be held in October or November. For the time being, there is no competition and it is possible we may bring forward the dates of the Malaysian Open,” said Edwin.
But despite not being rewarded with an overseas exposure, the efforts of the junior swimmers have not been in vain.
There were several notable performances in the three-day meet, which ended on Sunday. A total of 22 meet records were set and the bulk of these records came from Sarawak and Selangor.
As expected, Sarawak continued their excellent performance in junior national age-group championships when they lifted their fifth consecutive overall title.
The Sarawakian swimmers ended on top of the heap with a total of 52 golds, 39 silvers and 38 bronzes, followed by Selangor who raked in 35 golds, 20 silvers and 25 bronzes.
It was no surprise as Sarawak have always had a strong development base in sports, with the existence of four Centres of Excellence in Kuching, Miri, Bintulu and Sibu.
But the secret to developing young talents does not just lie in a well-planned coaching programme.
As Sarawak swimming coach Shazali Salleh puts it: “The commitment and support from the parents is equally important as well.
“They not only bring the children for training but are also there throughout the process. We also train our swimmers at public pools and there is interaction from the public. In a way, swimming is very popular here in Sabah and Sarawak and that is why more parents encourage their children to take up the sport.”
The Miri Amateur Swimming Association, for example, boast a membership of more than 80 swimmers and they train the whole year round.
Among the top talents who came through the ranks from the Miri-based swimming club were Daniel Bego, Kho Ai Hwee and Melvin Chua.
Daniel, who was drafted into the National Sport Council’s 2006 programme squad early this year, raked in six golds and set five meet records in the boys’ 13-14 age-group category.
The 14-year-old certainly has the potential to become a top short distance swimmer in the future if he is groomed in the right direction. In fact, his record in the 200m freestyle event was almost two seconds faster than the winner in the 15-17 age-group category.
Ai Hwee set the pool ablaze when she splashed to seven golds in the girls’ 15-17 year-old age-group category. She upstaged favourite Cindy Ong to win the butterfly gold in Sukma last year and was also part of the Sarawak team who set a new national record in the 4x100m medley relay there.
Another young talent worth noting is Selangor’s Khoo Cai Lin who bagged seven golds in the 13-14 age-group category. Cai Lin’s most impressive show came on the first day when she smashed a 13-year-old meet record belonging to former national swimmer Magdaline Goh from Penang.
Magdaline’s time of 1:01.02 in the 100m freestyle, which was one of the longest existing junior swimming records in the country, was erased when Cai Lin clocked 1:00.60.
“We are very happy with some of the times recorded by the 2006 programme swimmers. We hope they can keep up with their performances,” said Edwin.