SIXTEEN sports will be contested at the Kuala Lumpur Asean Para Games from Sept 17-23 – making it the biggest ever.
But hosts Malaysia will be banking on four sports – athletics, swimming, bowling and cycling – to deliver the bulk of the 103-gold target and emerge as overall champions for the first time in 16 years.
Athletics is expected to deliver 40 gold medals, cycling 14, bowling 13 and swimming eight.
Chef de mission Datuk Subramaniam Raman Nair believes that Malaysia have good depth of athletes in these four sports, which are expected to contribute at least 75% of the gold medal target.
“There are a total of 368 golds up for grabs. So, if we can hit the 103-gold target, that should be enough for us to become overall champions,” he said.
The 326-strong Malaysian contingent will also be competing in the other sports – archery, athletics, badminton, boccia, chess, cycling, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side, goalball, powerlifting, volleyball, swimming, table tennis, bowling, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball.
In Singapore two years ago, Malaysia won 52 golds, 58 silvers and 37 bronzes to finish behind Thailand (95-76-79) and Indonesia (81-74-63).
Malaysia have emerged as overall champions only once – at the inaugural 2001 Games in Kuala Lumpur – and have finished second twice – in 2008 in Thailand and 2009 in Kuala Lumpur.
It may seem ambitious to double the gold medal count from the previous edition, but it is achievable as Malaysia can count on home advantage and a comprehensive preparation.
The National Sports Council (NSC) and National Sports Institute (NSI) have put in a lot of efforts in the athletes’ preparation and competition exposure under the Kita Juara and Podium programmes.
Headlining the Malaysian challenge for the Asean Para Games are the four winners from last year’s Rio Paralympics in athletics. Sprinter Ridzuan Puzi, shot putter Ziyad Zolkefli and long jumper Mohd Latif Romly won gold medals while Siti Nor Radiah Ismail clinched a bronze in women’s long jump.
Ridzuan, Ziyad and Latif will be joint flag bearers for the contingent as well.
All eyes will be on the four as they aim to contribute to the 40-gold target set for the athletics squad from the 133 events contested.
Swimming, led by Incheon Asian Para Games silver medallist Jamery Siga, will be looking to better their previous haul of seven golds from Singapore while World Para Track Cycling Championships bronze medallists Afiq Afify Rizan-Khairul Adha Rasol should led the track cycling squad to shine at the National Velodrome in Nilai.
What the para athletes hope for is that Malaysians will turn up in droves to cheer them on during the Games.
“It gives us the extra motivation to fight and not to disappoint the fans. I hope they will show us the same kind of support at the Asean Para Games,” said world record holder Ziyad.