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MALAYSIA is targeting a top-three finish at this month's SEA Games, even though the lack of sporting competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for medal predictions.
Officials have given differing targets for the athletes to achieve in Hanoi. Chef de mission Nur Azmi Ahmad hopes that the Malaysian contingent can double up their efforts to get the top-three target, while Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Faizal Azumu has instead set very specific targets: 36 golds, 35 silvers and 75 bronzes for a total of 146 medals.
“We are targeting the top three. The athletes must appreciate what the government has spent and this is the time for them to return with the medals,” said Nur Azmi.
He added that the COVID-19 constraints affected all athletes in the world and it is all up to the national athletes to show high commitment to succeed in Hanoi.
On the other hand, National Sports Council director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail said that, while 36 gold medals is a realistic target, the council is expecting another 16 or 17 golds from the Malaysia contingent - if the analyses on athlete performance and other countries are accurate.
"The additional 16 or 17 are based on data that we cannot quite obtain, especially data on our rivals' performance and development," he told Bernama.
"Because they did not compete and several championships where our athletes would have competed against them were cancelled, we cannot predict clearly their situation."
Based on current performances, the officials believe that 15 sports will be able to contribute to their 36-gold target, with diving and athletics capable of winning more than five golds each.
Already, the Malaysian divers have delivered - winning all eight gold medals at stake in a sport which they have traditionally dominated.
Meanwhile taekwondo, wushu, petanque, pencak silat and bodybuilding are the sports that could provide the additional gold medals.
Malaysia will be sending 584 athletes to Hanoi. In the previous edition in the Philippines in 2019, the athletes failed to meet the target of 70 golds, bringing back 55 golds, 58 silvers and 71 bronzes.
Ahmad Faizal said that the lower medal target for this SEA Games is due to many of Malaysia's gold-winning sports in 2019 not being featured in this edition.
“We must also bear in mind that 27 sports disciplines that we did well in the last SEA Games in the Philippines will not be contested this time,” he said, citing the absences of rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating, polo, squash and skateboarding.
One gold medal which will be coveted by the contingent will be at the men's football competition, with the Malaysian footballers eager to win it for the first time since 2011.
Forward Luqman Hakim Shamsudin believes that his teammates have developed a good understanding among one another, and it could prove crucial in their hunt for gold.
“My hope is of course for the team to get the gold, not silver or bronze...just target the gold. The team has made the best preparations, we have played friendlies with Timor Leste and the Philippines," said Luqman, who played for Belgian First Division side KV Kortrijk.
“These friendlies have made us gel well as a team."
Malaysia is set to face Thailand, Laos, Singapore and Cambodia in Group B of the men's football competition at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh. Only the top two teams in the group stage will advance to the semi-finals.