HANOI: Malaysia's gold medal rush in the 22nd SEA Games took flight in style as archer Mohd Marbawi Sulaiman shot to two firsts at the National Sports Training Centre yesterday.
It was Malaysia's first medal of the Vietnam Games and also the first archery gold medal in the biennial Games since the sport made its debut in 1977 in Kuala Lumpur.
The chubby 20-year-old Marbawi defeated Singapore's Loh Wen Liang 104-102 in a thrilling men's individual final to make up for his teammate and schoolmate Mon Redee Sut Txi's agonising miss of the women's individual gold medal a day earlier.
However, there were a few heart-stopping moments in the 12-arrow shoot before Marbawi emerged as the Malaysian hero.
The lead exchanged hands between Marbawi and Loh twice. In the final shoot, Marbawi needed no less than an eight. And the cool Malaysian did it, hitting the bull's-eye to beat the Singaporean by three points.
And the celebration of a historic moment began.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein rushed to hug the proud winner, followed by a huge crowd – teammates, coaches and Malaysian supporters.
The 74kg Marbawi was chaired by his teammates. And Mon Redee, who a day earlier had wept after losing out on gold, shed tears of joy.
“I cannot express how happy I feel at this moment. I won the first gold for Malaysia, first for archery in the SEA Games and for me, this is first SEA Games and the best-ever achievement,” said the sports science student of Universiti Institut Teknologi Malaysia in Shah Alam.
“I have even surprised myself here. Indonesian Kuswantro (the top seed) was the favourite. He had even set a new SEA Games record in the qualifying round. However, he lost to Wen Liang in the semi-finals. After I defeated the second seed from the Philippines in the semis, I knew I had the chance for gold.”
En route to the final, Marbawi defeated teammate Cheng Chu Sian 112-97 in the quarter-finals and eliminated second seed Florante Matan 104-101 in the semi-finals.
Marbawi said the victory yesterday would certainly make up for Mon Redee's disappointment.
“Both of us are from Pengkalan Hulu (in Perak). We studied at the same school, trained under the same coach and we made it into the national team at the same time (2001). This win is for her, too.”
“My teammates believed in me. I must thank my coaches (Lee Jae-hyung and Othman Abdul Wahab) for their guidance and team manager (Abdul Hamid Hasan) for his support,” said Marbawi.
He will now lead Malaysia in the men's team final today. Malaysia is expected to play against the Philippines in the semi-final.