KUALA LUMPUR: The gauntlet has been thrown down. The Vietnam-bound athletes have been asked to defy the odds and win more than 57 gold medals to record the countrys best-ever SEA Games outing outside of Malaysia.
Malaysia won a record 111 gold medals when the Games were held in Kuala Lumpur two years ago but their best efforts abroad was the 57 they managed in Brunei in 1999.
Yesterday, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, who handed the national flag over to the Malaysian contingent, challenged the athletes to perform better than they did in Brunei.
The National Sports Council (NSC) and Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) have set a modest target of 50 gold medals for the Games to be held in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
But after assessing the preparations and the commitment of the athletes, Hishammuddin was confident they could do better, and even surpass the Brunei achievement.
The sports associations may not agree but I am confident that the athletes can do better than winning 50 gold medals, he said.
I know it will not be easy on the athletes. We are sending a smaller squad and we are competing in fewer events. And some of the sports in which we won gold medals at the last Games are not being contested in Vietnam. On top of that, some of our top athletes have also retired.
But Ive high hopes. Nothing is impossible and I want the athletes to go out there and achieve it.
Vietnam will be hosting 32 sports and a total of 435 events. Malaysia, however, are only taking part in 27 sports and 221 events.
At the last SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia had competed in 346 out of 391 events.
Nine sports bowling, squash, hockey, equestrian, golf, lawn bowls, netball, sailing and synchronised swimming in which Malaysia had won a total of 48 gold medals in 2001, will not be contested in Vietnam.
On top of that, Malaysia are not taking part in five sports fin swimming, traditional boat race, canoe, wrestling and shuttlecock which offer a total of 64 gold medals.
Athletes like divers Yeoh Ken Nee and Rosatimah Mohamed; swimmers Alvin Chia and Anthony Ang, and runners M. Ramachandran and Nur Herman Majid, who contributed a total of 11 gold medals in Kuala Lumpur, have retired.
Malaysia will be represented by 355 athletes in Vietnam; 260 in Hanoi and 95 in Ho Chi Minh City. There will be 42 officials and two chefs-de-mission; Norminshah Sabirin (Hanoi) and Datuk Ho Koh Chye (Ho Chi Minh City).
Meanwhile, in yesterdays flag handing ceremony, karate exponent R. Puvaneswaran was Malaysias flag bearer while the Malaysian contingent, led by silat exponent Mohd Azreen Abdul Malik, pledged to give their best in Vietnam.