Irregular heartbeat forces walker Yufang out of SEA Games


KUALA LUMPUR: Walker Yuan Yufang, known for her stout-heartedness under any circumstances, is out of the Vietnam SEA Games. She has been felled by a heart problem. 

The 27-year-old, who had been expected to deliver two golds in Vietnam, has been hospitalised at the National Heart Institute (IJN) after being diagnosed as having irregular heartbeat. 

Yufang, who had been down to compete in three events – the 20km walk, 5,000m and 10,000m – in Vietnam, went for a minor surgery yesterday morning to remove tissues which had caused the abnormal heartbeat. She will be discharged from hospital today but is expected to be out of action for one month. 

With her out of the SEA Games, Malaysia will not have any representative in the women's 20km walk. In her absence, the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) have almost certainly lost two of the six golds they had targeted for. 

Yufang, when met at the hospital, said she had felt the pain in her chest during the Asian Track and Field (ATF) meet in Manila in September. 

MAAU president Datuk Khalid Yunus visiting Yuan Yufang at the National Heart Institute (IJN) Tuesday. Looking on is MAAU vice-president R. Annamalai, who is also the athletics team manager for the SEA Games.

“I had pains in my chest in the last two rounds of the 20km walk event but thought that I was pushing myself too hard. I kept going despite the pain.”  

She clocked 1'32:25 to win the bronze, eclipse her old national record of 1'34:13 and become the first Malaysian athlete to qualify under Category A for the Athens Olympics. 

“I went to the National Sports Institute (NSI) to complain about my pains.  

“They checked and found my heartbeat was normal,'' said Yufang. 

“However, I was not happy with the results and went to meet NSI director Dr. Ramlan (Aziz), who referred me to the IJN hospital. After a medical check-up, they told me that the pains were caused by an irregular heartbeat and I had to go for the surgery. 

“I am sad that I won't be able to compete in the SEA Games,” added Yufang, who has twice before jumped out of hospital beds to join competition. 

Last year, she was admitted to the Pantai hospital for dengue - three weeks before the Manchester Commonwealth Games in July. She recovered in time to win a bronze medal in the 20km walk.  

A year earlier, she was pregnant and had not been expected to recover from her confinement to qualify for the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. 

She gave birth to a baby boy on June 8. On July 28, she competed in the Malaysian Open to qualify for the 20km for the SEA Games. She went on to win the gold medal. 

MAAU president Datuk Khalid Yunus, who visited Yufang at the hospital yesterday, said it was really unfortunate that she would have to miss out. 

“However, to me her health is more important than SEA Games medals. She has qualified for the Olympics and should concentrate on doing well in Athens,'' said Khalid. 

Team manager R. Annamalai said that with Yufang out, it would be tough for them to achieve the six-gold target. 

“With two golds gone, we will be more than happy to bag four or five golds.  

“However, the morale of the other athletes is still high,” said Annamalai, who is also MAAU vice-president. 

In the absence of Yufang, 21 athletes comprising 13 men and eight women will compete in 20 out of the 43 track and field events. 

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