Hanoi the stepping stone for the young

THE target was met – surpassed in fact – but the disappointment was palpable.

Those on social media were aghast, and Malaysia’s king of Facebook Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak chimed in too.

How did Malaysia end up in sixth place at the SEA Games behind hosts Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore?

Tiny Singapore and the Philippines ahead of us? That’s quite unthinkable.

The Malaysian contingent beat the target by winning 39 golds, surpassing the target of 36, but many remain bewildered by a target that was set so low.

I was shocked by the low target too, but let’s get real. We were not in a position to aim high.

Of our 584 athletes, 367 were debutants. And 119 were under the age of 21.

Take bowling, for example. In the men’s individual event, in the first three blocks, Shahrukh Amin Zulkifli was in the podium spot, but after the fourth block, where he scored 117 pins, he dropped down and could not gain any momentum for a strong fightback.

He eventually finished seventh with 1,199 pins. After the event, he could only look at the lanes and wonder where he went wrong.

He admitted that his score in block four bothered him mentally. But he is only 22 and is competing in his first SEA Games. It could not have been easy against top bowlers like Indonesia’s Ryan Lalisang, the Philippines’ Marvin Matheiu Tan and Thailand’s Yannaphon Larpapharat.

He just needs to take it on the chin and come back fighting.

Then, we have 18-year-old 100m sprinter Mohd Azeem Fahmi. He carried the hopes of the nation on his young shoulders and had a false start. That can be harrowing. A millisecond dashed his hope of being the top speedster in the region.

The Malaysian Under-23 football were no different. Others had overage players but not Malaysia – but they still fought bravely and deserved at least a medal.

Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin, 20, missed the third penalty against Indonesia in the bronze medal match. Bitterly disappointed, he apologised.

So did Alia Husna Budruddin, when she finished fourth in the 50m rifle three positions. The 21-year-old cried and said sorry to her coach.

In my eyes, they do not owe anyone an apology.

In sports, there are the good days and the bad days. These youngsters have been passionate about winning.

Some have not met their families for a long time and have sacrificed a lot just to prepare for this Games.

Sometimes, the burden of expectations can be heavy.

What they need right now is support. With support, they will blossom.

The young have given me hope. I believe they will bounce back in Phnom Penh next year.

With borders opening, there will be more competitions, more chances to improve which will lead to better performances next year.

It is up to the national sporting associations to take up the challenge.

We can learn from the others. Just look at the Philippines. They have a world-class gymnast in Carlos Yulo.

We can, too, if we groom the likes of Mohd Shahrul Aimy, Ng Chun Chen and Luqman Al-Hafiz Zulfa, all first-timers in Hanoi.

These youngsters have time on their side. Given the right push, they can conquer the world.

The Hanoi SEA Games was just a stepping stone for them.

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