SPRINTER Nazmizan Mohamad dashed in to record what will arguably be the biggest coup of the 22nd SEA Games for Malaysia at the National Stadium in Hanoi yesterday.
The athlete least expected to win the 100m rose to the occasion to end Malaysias 36-year-old gold drought in the race to be the fastest man in South-East Asia with a masterful 10.47 run.
The 22-year-old UPM student from Dungun accomplished what other more famous runners before him, among them Dr M. Jegathesan, Rabuan Pit, Watson Nyambek and Azmi Ibrahim, had failed to do in what is considered the most prestigious gold medal of the entire Games.
Nazmizans victory also brought the Thai domination of the 100m sprint to a screeching halt.
The last Malaysian winner in the event was G. Rajalingam in the 1967 SEAP Games in Bangkok.
I am at a loss for words and I feel very proud to have finally brought home the 100m gold medal to Malaysia after such a long, long time, said Nazmizan.
I had personally targeted two gold medals in both the sprints and to bag the first is like a dream come true. I hope this victory will lift the interest in athletics in our country and inspire more Malaysians to take up the sport.
The buzz was already being felt within the Malaysian camp hours before the race when Nazmizan posted the fastest time of 10.53 in the heats in the morning - 0.03 seconds quicker than top Thai runner Sittichai Suwonprateep.
Starting in Lane Five, Nazmizan got off the blocks well and stayed among the top three together with Sittichai and Indonesian John Herman Murray at the 50m mark.
He gained momentum but Sittichai matched him stride for stride with John Herman failing to keep up with the duo.
A late lunge at the end won Nazmizan the gold medal, pipping Sittichai by a mere 0.02 seconds.
I did not get off the blocks perfectly but it did not hinder my progress. I could feel the momentum gaining as the race wore on and I rode on it to pull me through, said Nazmizan.
I was not worried about where Sittichai was and because of that I was not under any pressure and could fully concentrate on the race.
Nazmizans time yesterday was his third fastest after the 10.38 in the World University Games in Daewu in August and the 10.44 in the earlier Pahang Open.
It was his third SEA Games but first in the century sprint, after having competed in the 4x400m in Brunei in 1999 and the 200m and 4x100m in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.
Nazmizan is now looking forward to clinching the sprint double. The 200m race is scheduled for Wednesday.
The only other Malaysian to compete in the finals on the opening day of the athletics programme was Ngew Sin Mei, who took the bronze medal in the womens triple jump.
The 20-year-old KL lass, making her debut in the Games, leapt 13.29m in her second attempt to finish behind Thailands Wacharee Rittiwat (13.44m) and Vietnams Nguyen Mai Quynh (13.42m).
I am disappointed with my run-up, especially at the final stretch, which let me down today, said Sin Mei. I came into the event with two goals, which was to post my personal best mark and also to win a medal.
Although I failed to breach my 13.30m target, I managed to bag a medal. I will now strive to do better in the long jump on Wednesday.
Mohd Zaiful Zainal Abidin came in second in 47.38 in the mens 400m second semi-finals to make the starting blocks for the final today.