Para-dise amid the pande mic

PETALING JAYA: The achievement of the para athletes in clinching three gold and two silver medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics provided the biggest sparkle for an otherwise lacklustre Malaysian sports scene this year.

2021 was seen as the recovery phase for the sports industry following the Covid-19 pandemic that struck countries worldwide for the past year.

The focus of Malaysian sports fans were certainly the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, both staged between July and September after being postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the wait to win the country’s first-ever Olympics gold medal continues to the 2024 edition in Paris after the contingent only returned home from Tokyo with a silver and a bronze.

In Tokyo, national men’s doubles shuttlers Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik created a shock when they sent two top Indonesian pairs packing – Marcus Fernaldi Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya in the quarter-finals and Mohammad Ahsan-Hendra Setiawan in the bronze medal playoff.

Malaysians then had to wait until the last day of the Games to see national track cycling ace Azizulhasni Awang ride his way to a silver in the men’s keirin event following a slight tactical misjudgement in the final.

National diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri did not win a medal but surely won the hearts of all Malaysians with her gritty fourth-place finish in the women’s 3m springboard individual final.

It was the only noteworthy achievement from the diving team this time after contributing medals in the previous two Olympic editions.

Cheong Jun Hoong, the 2017 world champion and 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist (with Pandelela Rinong in the women’s 10m platform synchro), had been struggling with injuries the past few years and it showed when she only finished 26th out of 30 divers and thus missed out on the semi-finals of the women’s 10m platform individual.

Pandelela, who bagged a bronze in London 2012 and silver in Rio 2016, made the women’s 10m platform final but ended up 12th and last.

Pandelela and veteran Leong Mun Yee also finished eighth and last in the 10m platform synchro final.

But the national Paralympic contingent did not disappoint when they arrived at the Land of the Rising Sun to begin their medal quest shortly after the Olympics.

Malaysia recorded their best-ever achievement at the Paralympics since the 1972 Heidelberg edition by bagging three golds and two silvers to overtake their three golds and one bronze feat in Rio 2016.

National powerlifter Bonnie Bunyau Gustin captured Malaysia’s first gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in the men’s 72kg category.

Men’s singles shuttler Cheah Liek Hou also bagged Malaysia’s second gold in the SU5 (physical impairment) category to become the first-ever Paralympics champion as badminton made its debut at the Tokyo Games.

Malaysia’s third gold medal was delivered by Abdul Latif Romly after he successfully retained his men’s T20 (intellectual disability) long jump title.

The country also earned two silver medals through Jong Yee Khie in the men’s powerlifting 107kg category and Paralympic Games debutant Chew Wei Lun in the boccia BC1 (physical impairment) individual event.

The only downer was Rio 2016 gold medallist Ziyad Zolkefli missing out on the gold medal in the men’s F20 (intellectual disability) shot putt despite having thrown a world record distance of 17.94m.

He was classified as Did Not Start (DNS) following a protest lodged by Ukraine, who claimed that Ziyad was late to enter the call room.

Hopefully, a bitter lesson has been learned by the stakeholders involved in Malaysian sports as we bid farewell to 2021.

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