Para athletes on right track for 2020 Paralympic success

THE future looks bright for Malaysia in Paralympics.

After last year’s success – winning three golds and a bronze at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics – the early indications are that Malaysia are on the right track to achieving bigger goals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

The recently-ended Kuala Lumpur Asean Para Games proved to be a success (90 golds) and showed that Malaysian para athletes have the ability to shine in certain sports – mainly athletics and cycling.

A total of 133 golds were at stake in athletics and Indonesia emerged as overall champions with a haul of 40-28-17, followed by Malaysia (36-27-30) and Thailand (26-33-31).

The good news is that Malaysia had 20 new athletes among the medal winners. Malaysia can surely build on this strong foundation for the future – Tokyo Paralympics.

The potential is there.

There’s 18-year-old S. Thavanesvaran, who won three golds in men’s 100m, 200m and 400m and silver in 4x100m T44 (amputation and others, including athletes with short stature); 16-year-old Eddy Bernard, who won golds in men’s 100m and long jump T37 (cerebral palsy); and 26-year-old Jonathan Wong Kar Gee, who bagged gold in the men’s long jump T11/12 (visual impairment).

Malaysian para cyclists also proved to be the best in this region based on their 22-12-5 medal haul. Their aim now is to conquer Asia.

The track cycling team swept all 12 golds at the National Velodrome in Nilai, Negri Sembilan, before bagging 10 out of the 14 golds from the road discipline in Putrajaya.

The bright prospects in cycling are Mohd Najib Turano and the women’s tandem pairing of Nur Azlia Syafinaz-Adila Noraidillina, who won four gold medals each at the Games.

All eyes will now be on these cyclists at the Asian Para Cycling Championships in Nilai next February.

Although the Malaysian contingent ended in second place overall – with 90 golds, 85 silvers and 83 bronzes – there is still plenty of work to be done to improve other sports, namely table tennis, powerlifting, chess, boccia and sitting volleyball

Malaysia used to have top-class powerlifters in the 80s and 90s, but there is a dearth of quality lifters today. Malaysia only managed one gold – through Jong Yee Khie (97kg) – from the 19 offered in the sport at the Asean Para Games.

Malaysia were a let down in table tennis, winning only one gold from the total of 27. Even then, they had to rely on veteran Ting Ing Hock, 52, to guide Malaysia to the team gold. Ing Hock also managed a silver in men’s singles T9 (mild impairment affecting the legs or the playing arm).

There is a big question mark on the future of other sports.

Sports Science lecturer Dr Mohamad Nizam Mohamed Shapie, of Universiti Teknologi Mara in Shah Alam, feels that the lack of support is depriving some of the sports from developing their athletes to excel.

“If there is support, we can do wonders. Without support and with just volunteers on the job, it is very difficult to push the sport or game forward,” said Dr Nizam, who is also the team manager for chess at the Kuala Lumpur Asean Para Games.

“We are not giving excuses nor stating something bad here. It is the reality. Why is Indonesia top of the overall medal tally? They have an incentive scheme (RM200mil Rupiah or about RM60,000 for a gold medal) which drives every athlete to go all out to win the gold medal. And they also have a good programme.

“Everyone can play chess – about five million people in Malaysia play the game – but this sport does not have support. Our coaches and players have to take a pay cut to be on the full-time training programme for the Asean Para Games. This is reality.”

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