Commonwealth Games 2022 : Battleground for national athletes to make amends for Hanoi low

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BIRMINGHAM, July 27: The official opening of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at the Alexander Stadium, Perry Barr, on Thursday (July 28) is set to kick-start Malaysia’s quest for a six-gold haul.

High hopes have been placed on the national athletes competing in Birmingham to glorify Malaysia on the world stage and, thus, make amends for the disappointment of an underwhelming achievement at the SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam in May.

Despite exceeding their target by bagging 39 gold medals, the Hanoi Games still saw Malaysia finishing sixth in the overall medal standings – their lowest since the 1983 edition in Singapore. 

With the presence of many world-class athletes in Birmingham, the 104 national athletes competing in the 14 sports, including four in para sports, will surely have a mountain to climb to ensure the six-gold target can be achieved – thus equalling the medal tally achieved at the 2014 edition in Glasgow, Scotland.

To compound matters, Malaysia’s quest for gold suffered a huge blow even before the Games could start, with two gold-medal prospects – national men’s singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia and national women’s squash ace S. Sivasangari – confirmed to be no-shows in Birmingham.

While Zii Jia pulled out citing the packed schedule he had had to face, besides wanting to fully focus on the World Championships to be held in Tokyo, Japan from Aug 22-28, Sivasangari was ruled out after being seriously injured in a car crash last month.

That resulted in the Olympic Committee of Malaysia (OCM) deciding to revise their gold medal target from seven to six, with the glitter of gold expected to come from weightlifting, badminton, lawn bowls, rhythmic gymnastics, powerlifting and diving.

In the absence Zii Jia, the main gold medal hopes from the badminton team in Birmingham will be 2020 Tokyo Olympics men’s doubles bronze medallists Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik and top women’s doubles pair Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah.

Malaysian sports fans will also be hoping for a golden splash in the pool from diving queen Datuk Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dhabitah Sabri. 

There is a good chance Pandelela-Nur Dhabitah can steal the gold medal in Birmingham judging by the way they overcame several challengers from other Commonwealth countries en route to winning the women’s 10-metre (m) platform synchronised bronze medal at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary earlier this month.

Pandelela-Nur Dhabitah lost to China’s Quan Hongchan-Chen Yuxi, the gold medallists, and Americans Delaney Schnell-Katrina Young, the silver medallists.

Pandelela can also add to her medal collection in Birmingham if she can rise to the occasion as she did on her way to bagging a bronze in the women’s 10m platform individual in Budapest.

National weightlifter Muhamad Aznil Bidin, meanwhile, will be gunning for his second consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medal after triumphing in the 2018 edition in Gold Coast, Australia, while the three national rhythmic gymnasts – Izzah Amzan, Koi Sie Yan and Ng Joe Ee – have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Amy Kwan Dict Meng, who bagged gold at the previous edition.

In lawn bowls, Malaysia will be banking on 2018 Gold Coast women’s pairs gold medallists Siti Zalina Ahmad-Emma Firyana Saroji to stand proudly atop the podium in Birmingham.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will also see Tokyo Paralympic powerlifting gold medallist Bonnie Bunyau Gustin competing in the lightweight event, where he will try to become the first Malaysian para athlete to bring home a gold medal from the 22nd edition of the quadrennial Games.

The absence of national track cycling ace Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang, who is currently in the recovery phase after undergoing heart surgery in April, is set to hamper the Malaysian cycling team’s quest for gold.

Having said that, the likes of Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom, Muhammad Fadhil Mohd Zonis and new-find Nurul Izzah Izzati Mohd Asri could well spring a surprise in the only event to be held outside Birmingham, namely at the Lee Valley Velopark, London.

One, however, must also not rule out the possibility of national athletes from sports like swimming, athletics, boxing, artistic gymnastics, judo, squash, table tennis, rugby 7s, 3×3 para basketball and triathlon doing the impossible.

The 12-day Birmingham 2022, with the theme Games for Everyone, will end on Aug 8, involving about 6,500 athletes and officials from 72 countries vying for 1,875 medals on offer from 19 sports and eight para sports.

This will be the third time that England will be hosting the Commonwealth Games, with London having played host in 1934 and Manchester in 2002.

At the 2018 edition in Gold Coast, the national contingent returned home with seven golds, five silvers and 12 bronzes while Malaysia’s best achievement was a 12-gold haul at the 2010 edition in New Delhi, India.

Let’s hope that the slogan ‘Demi Malaysia’ will ignite the spirit of our national athletes to beat the odds and glorify the country’s name in Birmingham. -TVS

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