The thorny road to Asian Games beckons Malaysian contingent

PETALING JAYA: A new Sports Minister from the Pakatan Harapan cabinet will be in charge when the Indonesia Asian Games takes place in Jakarta and Palembang from Aug 18-Sept 2 but one thing remains unchanged.

It’s going to be a daunting prospect for the Malaysian contingent to secure a top 10 finish at the Asian Games to fulfil the objective of the Podium Programme.

Weightlifting, lawn bowls, rhythmic gymnastics, badminton and diving contributed a total of seven gold medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last month but it will be a different proposition in Indonesia.

Lawn bowls is not contested at the Asian Games while our gold medallist 56kg weightlifter Muhd Azroy Hazalwafie, if he is selected to compete, will only be fighting for a top-10 finish in the presence of world-class contenders from China, North Korea and Vietnam.

The diving duo of Cheong Jun Hoong-Pandelela Rinong, who splashed to victory in the women’s 10m platform synchro event in Gold Coast, will find it hard to bring home the gold if China opts for their top combination of Zhang Jiaqi-Zhang Minjie.

The 14-year-old Chinese pairing won the first two legs of the Diving World Series in Beijing, China, and Fuji, Japan, in March as Pandelela-Jun Hoong settled for silver and bronze respectively.

Amy Kwan will also find it hard to make her presence felt in rhythmic gymnastics as she will be up against the Uzbeks, Kazakhs and South Koreans.

Malaysia last won an Asian Games gold medal in badminton from men’s doubles pair Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong in Doha, Qatar, in 2006 and like it or not, veteran Lee Chong Wei still remains the best hope to deliver.

At the age of 35, Chong Wei bagged gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games despite not targeted to in the first place and his resolve in going for a final fling at the Asian Games stage gives hope to the contingent.

Asian Games chef de mission Datuk Seri Abdul Azim Mohd Zabidi said the relevant stakeholders like National Sports Institute (NSI) and National Sports Council will emphasise on athlete preparation and closing the gap on their opponents over the next few months.

“We have a long list of 551 athletes identified for the Asian Games while NSI will also be sending 82 sports science and medical support staff.

“We will try to better the previous achievement from Incheon, South Korea, and if I can – to get into the top 10.

“But the medal target can only be made after the final list is processed with the sports associations involved,” said Azim, who is also the newly elected Olympic Council of Malaysia deputy president.

For the record, Qatar finished 10th in the overall medals table with 10 gold medals in Incheon in 2014.

A total of 40 sports with 462 medal events will be contested in Indonesia this time.