By Amiril Muttaqien Meketar / BERNAMA
TOKYO, Aug 23 – Five years ago, three Malaysian athletes made history when they brought home three gold medals from the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
It was the first time Malaysia had experienced the glitter of gold since participating in the prestigious Games in the 1972 edition in Heidelberg, Germany. Thus, the achievement of three gold and one bronze in Rio was the best feat ever for the national contingent.
The three gold medallists were Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi who won the gold in the 100m T36 (celebral palsy) sprint, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli in the T20 shot put (learning disabilities) and Abdul Latif Romly in the T20 long jump.
Their success also opened the eyes of national sports fans on the ability of these extraordinary athletes to make Malaysia famous globally.
Following their success in Brazil, the national paralympic squad continued to record more feats in various international tournaments, with athletes from other sports now also wanting to prove their gold medal potential in the Land of the Rising Sun when the Tokyo 2020 Parlaympic Games gets underway on Tuesday (Aug 24) .
For this edition, 22 Malaysian paralympians will take up the challenge of showcasing the Jalur Gemilang (national flag) in nine types of sports.
Mohamad Ridzuan, Muhammad Ziyad, and Abdul Latif will definitely fight hard to defend their gold, but the involvement of three other athletes, namely Bonnie Bunyau Gustin from powerlifitng, S. Suresh (archery) and Cheah Liek Hou (badminton) should also be given attention this time.
Going in with a reputation as a record holder and world champion in the men’s category of over 72 kilogrammes (kg), Bonnie is seen as one of the main contenders for gold while Suresh, who was also the 2019 world archery champion in The Netherlands, can produce gold for Malaysia in the men’s recurve open event.
Liek Hou, who will be competing in the men’s singles event in the SU5 category, has the opportunity to make history by becoming one of the first badminton players to win a medal as the sport is making its debut in the Games this time.
The six-time world champion, who was inspired by 1996 Atlanta Olympic men’s singles bronze medallist Datuk Rashid Sidek, can achieve another outstanding feat in Tokyo if he manages to maintain his stellar performance when he emerged champion of two badminton tournaments, in Spain in May and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), last April.
After sacrificing time, sweat and energy for the sake of our beloved country over the past five years, the challenge of other athletes in the national contingent should not be taken lightly either and even surprises may come from them.
Hopes on the cycling squad’ are definitely on bronze winner in the C1 men’s 15km scratch race at the UCI 2020 World Track Cycling Championships in Canada, Mohamad Yusof Hafizi Shaharuddin, who will be competing in the 3,000m, team sprint, individual time trial and highway events.
Other riders completing the national cycling squad’s challenge in Tokyo are 2018 Asian Para Games C5 category highway race gold medallist Zuhairie Ahmad Tarmizi, Muhammad Hafiz Jamali in the 1000m C5 time trial as well as Nur Azlia Syafinaz Mohd Zais and her helmsman, Nurul Suhada Zainal, in the highway and category B time trial.
Meanwhile, the only female representative in the athletics squad Siti Nooriasah Mohamad Ariffin will be competing in the 400m T20 event while Jong Yee Khie (powerlifting) and Abu Samah Borhan (wheelchair tennis) have a chance to improve on their performance in their second appearance in the Paralympic Games after not managing to grab podium positions in Rio 2016.
The others in the contingent to Tokyo include Wong Kar Gee (long jump T13); Didin Taresoh (badminton SH6); Chew Wei Lun (boccia BC1); Chee Chao Ming (table tennis T9); Wiro Julin (archery) and three para swimmers – Muhammad Nur Syaiful Zulkafli and Jamery Siga (S5 category) and Brenda Anellia Larry (S4).
Just like the Tokyo Olympic Games which closed on Aug 8, the organisation of the Tokyo Paralympic Games this time proceeded despite the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still plaguing Japan and the rest of the world.
in fact, Japan announced an extension to the emergency in Tokyo until Sept 12 after the number of COVID-19 cases was seen to be still high and showing no signs of receding any time soon.
With the official opening tomorrow night scheduled for 8 pm (7pm Malaysian time) at the Olympic Stadium, the excitement will certainly be less felt at the sports venues as the hosts have decided to do without spectators just like at the Tokyo Olympics, to curb the spread of COVID -19 in the world’s largest metropolitan city.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s chef de mission to the Tokyo Paralympic Games Datuk Seri Megat D Shahriman Zaharudin reminded the athletes to adhere to the standard operating procedures (SOP) set by the organisers, besides taking care of their health to avoid being infected with the dangerous virus.
Faced with various challenges in preparing for Tokyo 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s athletes definitely need the strong support of all Malaysians to light the fire of their struggle on Tokyo soil.
A total of 4,400 athletes from 160 countries will compete in 22 types of sports offered at the Paralympic Games this time.
To the national paralympians, for Malaysia, you can do it!