PHEE Jinq En was in tears immediately after coming out of the pool after the women’s 50m breaststroke final.
Her reaction showed the enormous pressure she was carrying for the country in the competition. The huge responsibility got to her as she not only failed to retain her title but also missed out on a medal.
At 25, age has caught up with her after three previous golden outings and surely one cannot expect Jinq En to keep on delivering.
This kind of summed up the performance of the team in Hanoi. The swimming programme has reached a crossroads and something needs to be done to revive the sport.
Khiew Hoe Yean, who splashed to victory in the 200m freestyle, saved the team from their worst ever performance since the 1979 SEA Games when they returned without a single gold.
In Hanoi, Malaysia managed one gold, four silvers and two bronzes, finishing fifth among 10 nations.
This is a slight decline compared to the two golds, two silvers and three bronzes won at the 2019 Games in the Philippines.
The 20-year-old Hoe Yean was the standout swimmer, winning the 200m freestyle gold, silver in the 200m backstroke, 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay and bronze in the 800m freestyle.
Hoe Yean and teammates (Welson Sim, Arvin Shaun Singh Chahal and Lim Yin Chuen) also set a new national record.
The 4x100m freestyle quartet finished second but were disqualified due to a false start by one of the swimmers.
Meanwhile, debutants Job Tan, who claimed a bronze in the men’s 200m breaststroke, and Bryan Leong, who set a new national record in the 50m freestyle, showed great potential.
Coach Chris Martin said he will sit down and discuss the future of the programme with Malaysia Swimming (MS).
“We’ll have a meeting when we get back. We have to decide on a strategy of competition,” he said.
“There seems to be three separate strategies throughout South-East Asia and I think we need to choose either one or two of them.
“There is the Vietnam way where they go away for nine months to Budapest and another three months in the United States to train and compete. They get 33 swimmers to commit to it and they support that.
“Then there is the Singapore way where they put a huge amount of resources to develop a large pool of kids.
“Or we can focus on specific events where we try to get the (physically) big people into the shorter events and those who want to work hard into the longer events,” said the American.
Despite this, Martin was pleased with the efforts from his charges.
“One gold, four silvers and two bronzes. I would have liked more, all coaches always want more.
“I would like to have the disqualified (4x100m freestyle) medal back, I would like to have a lot of things.
“But I really can’t complain with the efforts the swimmers put in, especially under the circumstances we have had over the last year and half with Covid-19.
“I was actually proud of the effort they put into the meet, they really kept after it.
“Job Tan getting a medal was great and Jayden Tan, if he decides to really commit himself, could be a (big) player in the future.
“We need kids at the age group to make a commitment to the sport and not just do it for recreation.”