Thursday, February 4, 2010

CARTWHEELS IN.....

MALAYSIA!



It has been a loooong time- too long- since I have done a Cartwheels segment for the blog, and I thought it was about time.

Actually, what made me think it was about time was reading an article a few weeks back about how the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation were working on sending some of their best gymnasts overseas for more international competition opportunities than ever before in order to improve their competitive ability. They will be competing in both the Uzbekistan Championshsips and the Pacific Alliance here in Melbourne this year.  This plan included both male and female gymnasts and, if I remember correctly, also mentioned a training stint in Russia for the women, which will be an enriching experience.



Well, Malaysia is not a country that has been known for its artistic gymnasts, though it has a very healthy and enthusiastic rhythmic gymnastics communtiy.  Even among the Asian countries, Malaysia does not always fare as well as countries with huge and highly regimented training programs like China, Japan and Korea, or even Vietnam.  Artistic gymnastics does survive, however, as attested to by the latest sporting news out of Malaysia.

Apparently, a number of sports (eleven or so) are being removed from the National school sports calender.  In a debate that resembles Australia's larger scale debate about which sports to fund, the difficulty was in deciding wether to keep or cut sports with less participation across the states of Malaysia, or the sports  that have fewer participants but marked success for the country.  Gymnastics, though one paper claimed it did not have adequate participation across the states, survived the cut, testifying to its precedence in Malaysia.


Nurul Fatiha Abd Hamid was a gymnast who carried the candle for Malaysian WAG gymnastics for quite some time.  She competed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games where she placed 20th in the AA. She also placed 13th in the 2007 Asian Games. 

Nurul only retired from gymnastics in 2007 at the rip old age of 21.  Her last competition was the Korat SEA game, an annual meet in Kuala Lumpar.  Narual had won gold in each of these games she entered and was hoping, in her last meet to take gold on uneven bars.  Though her eyes were clearly on the prize, Narul also had her focus and her hopes pinned on the junior gymnasts who would carry on the legacy for Malaysion gymnastics. She told reporters;

 "I will motivate them to challenge for gold medals. It will be a great end to my career knowing that there are gymnasts ready to take over from me"



One of Malaysia's more successful gymnasts is MAG competitior Ng Shu Wai.  At the last Commonwealth Games, Shu Wai placed 5th in the AA, as well as earning a silver for floor and qualifying to four event finals.  His AA score in the team competition, an 86.450 was three points higher than his next placed team mate.  He also won silver at the previous Games too.

Shu Wai has apparently left the sport, but according to an article published in the Star only three weeks ago, Wai is planning to return- on his own terms.  He has told the Malay Fed that he will return to compete in both the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games only if he can train on his own.  As the current batch of gymnasts are nowehere near the calibre of Shu Wai, it seems the federation will concede.


Malaysia did not seem to send any women to the 2008 Asian Games, though nor did China.  It may have had something to do with the Olympic year.  But they have competed regionally in other places.  Chan Sau Wah, won medals both at the SEA games, and oat the Vietnamese Open in 2008, winning her the unexpected accolade of school sportsgirl of the year.


Chan did not expect to beat the swiimers she saw as favorites, but winning medals at both the aforementioned meets helped her to be pushed forward into the limelight.  She continued to compete in 2009.

A newcomer to the scene is Cheong See Teng, a sixteen year old who overcame knee injuries at the Kuala Lumpar mini-Olympics, taking the gold in the AA out from under the noses of gymnasts far more seasoned than herself.  Funnily, Cheong, who had only joined the senior team the year before, had only decided to compete three days before the contest.  Cheong, modestly attributed her success to the fact that others (including Sau Wah who won silver)  were also suffering injury.



Nevertheless, her gutsy performance proves that there is still more talent rising in Malaysia and that their strong inter-state, inter-school competition regiment provides a much needed competitive basis for young athletes. 

Hopefully the new plan to bring their best gymnasts out into the world more often for competition will work to improve their international standings. Secretary of the Federation, N. Shamagarajah has also told reporters that the Fed has enlisted the help of foreign coaches to prepare them for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.  Hopefully this will see them become competitiove if not in the world, then at least in Asia.


*****

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