Lee Hup Wei’s injury-enforced absence as good as ended whatever slim hopes the athletics contingent had of winning a first medal at the Commonwealth Games since 2002.
But in the other five athletes selected by the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF), there is a ray of hope shining through after the sport toiled for more than a decade in the doldrums.
While it is true that athletics hit a new low at the sport’s last major assignment at the Naypyidaw Sea Games in December, it does not tell the whole story.
The five athletes headed to Glasgow are all aged 23 or below and in them lies the sport’s salvation.
High jumpers Nauraj Singh Randhawa and Yap Sean Yee, hammer thrower Jackie Wong, pole vaulter Iskandar Alwi and 100m hurdler Raja Nursheena Raja Azhar are all being sent to the Scottish city with one eye on developing into gold medal contenders at next year’s Singapore Sea Games.
Nauraj is the only one among the five to win gold in Naypyidaw and after setting a personal best of 2.21m at the Malaysian Open last month, more is expected of him not only in Glasgow, but also at the Incheon Asian Games for which he has also qualified.
Iskandar, Sean Yee and Jackie are already national record holders despite their relative youth while Raja Nursheena ran the fastest race of her life in Naypyidaw for an unexpected bronze medal.
Hup Wei’s injury comes as a blow to the squad, not only for his experience and leadership, but also for the fact that he could have been in contention for a medal after finishing fifth in New Delhi four years ago.
A repeat of his national record of 2.27 metres would have put him among the podium places so the burden of expectations now falls on Nauraj, who so seamlessly shouldered the responsibility in similar circumstances at the Sea Games to deliver gold in Hup Wei’s absence.
Malaysia have only won one gold, one silver and one bronze previously in athletics but none since 2002.
There are no expectations for a medal this time with MAF setting each athlete a target of reaching the finals of their respective events in Glasgow, where the presence of athletes from England, Australia, the Caribbean and Africa ensures world-class fields.
None of the athletes actually met the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s qualifying standard — the sixth place marks in New Delhi — but MAF president Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad is confident they will fare well.
“We think they are just about that standard and can perform well at the Commonwealth Games,” said Zainal after a selection committee meeting recently.
“Our analysis shows that there is some quality to their performances and they can be among the best 10 (of their events) in Glasgow.
“The Commonwealth Games is of a higher standard than other meets but we think they should be able to perform.”
By DEVINDER SINGH - NST