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The Paralympic cauldron is seen before the closing ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo September 5, 2021. — AFP pic
The Paralympic cauldron is seen before the closing ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo September 5, 2021. — AFP pic

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TOKYO, Sept 5 — What an extraordinarily talented bunch they are.

That’s the only conclusion one can come to when describing the national contingent’s 12-day battle for medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics as the curtain finally comes down on the Games in the Land of the Rising Sun today.

Not only did they meet the three-gold target, but the national contingent also created history when they ended the medal quest with two silvers to make this the country’s best-ever achievement since competing in the first edition in 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany.  

Malaysia’s previous best was at the 2016 Rio edition when the contingent returned home with three golds and one bronze.

National long jumper Abdul Latif Romly, who was the country’s last representative at the Tokyo Olympics, again stole the show when he coolly confirmed Malaysia’s third gold medal in the men’s T20 (intellectual impairment) category at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday (Sept 4).

Although he had to forgo the sixth and final attempt after suffering an injury during his fifth jump, Abdul Latif can be proud of his achievement as he is now the only Paralympian to have won two gold medals after his initial success in Rio 2016. 

Other than Abdul Latif, the powerlifting camp emerged as the most successful team in Tokyo when both its athletes, Bonnie Bunyau Gustin and Jong Yee Khie managed to return home with a medal each.

Competing at the Tokyo International Forum, the dwarf-sized Bonnie of Sarawak marked his Paralympic debut by becoming the country’s first athlete to win the gold medal when he emerged triumphant in record-style in the men’s 72-kilogramme (kg) event on August 28.

The 22-year-old lifted 228kg to erased the previous Paralympic record of 227kg set by Iraq’s Rasool Mohsin at Rio 2016.   

The 32-year-old Yee Khie then chipped in with a silver medal on August 30 in the 107kg event to make amends for his seventh placing in the 97kg category when he made his Paralympic debut in Rio 2016.

National men’s singles SU5 (physical impairment) shuttler Cheah Liek Hou also caught the eye with his outstanding performance en route to becoming the first Paralympic champion in his category as badminton made its debut in Tokyo.

The Yoyogi National Stadium was the scene of a titanic struggle between the 33-year-old and his nemesis, top seed Anrimusthi Dheva of Indonesia, in the final on Saturday (Sept 4) before the Malaysian eventually triumphed 21-17, 21-15 to give the country its second gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics.

Kudos also to Johor-born Chew Wei Lun, who created history by becoming the first national boccia player to win a medal in the Paralympics when he stunned the crowd at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre to bag silver.

He also racked up a six-game winning run, including four in Group B of the mixed individual BC1 (physical impairment) category before the streak was snapped when he lost 4-2 to defending champion David Smith of Great Britain in the final.

The success of Liek Hou and Wei Lun means Malaysia will have more medal prospects to count on at the 2024 Paris Paralympics, having depended on athletics and powerlifting as major medal contributors in the past few editions.

Despite the golden glitter and silver shine, there is one incident that occurred on the night of August 31 that most Malaysians will surely find difficult to forget.

That was the day defending champion Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli was denied the gold medal in the men’s shot put F20 category. His throw of a distance of 17.94m was also a new world record for the event.

He was classified as Did Not Start (DNS) following a protest lodged by Ukraine, who claimed that Muhammad Ziyad was late to enter the call room.

Maksym Koval of Ukraine was announced as the gold medallist with a throw of 17.34m, breaking Muhammad Ziyad’s world record of 17.29m that he had set at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London.

Meanwhile, there was also disappointment for another Rio 2016 gold medallist Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi when he could only finish fourth in the men’s 100m T36 (physical impairment) final on Saturday (Sept 4) in 12.15 seconds (s).

Mohamad Ridzuan, better known as ‘Dek Wan’, attributed his poor timing to the slippery surface of the track due to a drizzle at the Olympic Stadium as China’s Deng Peicheng not only won the gold but also broke the Paralympic record after clocking 11.85s.

In the recurve archery event at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field here, the national archers found themselves unable to match the capabilities of their Russian Paralympic Committee opponents in the quest for medals.

S. Suresh, the 2019 world champion, came a cropper as early as in the first round after losing 2-6 to Bato Tsydendorzhiev while Wiro Julin crashed out in the second round after going down 126-136 to Bair Shigaev.

Commenting on the Malaysian athletes’ performance, chef de mission Datuk Seri Megat D Shahriman Zaharudin was thankful that the contingent managed to achieve the target that had been set for them.

“We are happy we won (the third) gold at the last minute through Abdul Latif, we should have gotten more. The Paralympics Council of Malaysia (PCM) are excited and have described this as the best Games so far, despite the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in a media conference held virtually today.

To ensure that the Paralympians continue to maintain the performance shown in Rio 2016 and Tokyo at future Games, Megat D Shahriman, who is also the PCM president, said they would work more closely with the National Sports Council (NSC), especially in further developing the athletes’ potential.

Meanwhile, there were several senior athletes, like Siti Noor Iasah Mohamad Ariffin, who competed in the women’s 400m T20 (intellectual impairment); Jamery Siga, who took part in the men’s 50m butterfly S5 (physical impairment); and Abu Samah Borhan, who contested the men’s wheelchair tennis, who failed to produce the desired results.   

On the flip side, at least Malaysia can now place their hopes on some new faces for the 2024 Paris Paralympics, including swimmers Brenda Anellia Larry and Muhammad Nur Syaiful Zulkafli, who did well to break their own records although they could not go far at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Attention should be paid to Brenda, 16, who is also the country’s youngest athlete in Tokyo, as she has a bright future ahead after clocking 1:00.62s in Heat Two of the women’s butterfly S5 category to break her own Asian record of 1:09.72s set at the 2019 Para Swimming World Series Championships in Singapore.

The national track and road race cyclists, namely Mohamad Yusof Hafizi Shaharuddin, Zuhairie Ahmad Tarmizi, Mohamad Hafiz Jamali as well as the combination of Nur Azlia Syafinaz and her pilot, Nurul Suhada Zainal, clearly struggled to challenge the might of the other riders, especially those from Europe who dominated both events.

Although they did not win any medals, Mohamad Yusof stood out when he improved on his personal best in the men’s 3,000m individual pursuit C1 (physical impairment) in the track event at the Izu Velodrome. He clocked 3:58.413s to better his previous mark of 4:02.959s set in Milton, Canada last year.

Mohamad Yusof also did well to clock 26:46.5s en route to finishing fifth out of 11 riders in the men’s time trial C1 category in the road race. 

It was also a disappointing Paralympic debut for other athletes, such as shuttler Didin Taresoh, who competed in the men’s singles SH6 (physical impairment) category; and Wong Kar Gee, who took part in the men’s long jump T13 (vision impairment) category; when injuries suffered during competition forced them to withdraw. 

A lack of experience and nervousness proved to be paddler Chee Chaoming’s downfall in the men’s singles TT9 (physical impairment) as he went on to lose all his group matches.

All said and done, kudos to these athletes for their sheer determination and tenacity as well as all the sacrifices they have put in to try and bring glory to the country.  

Although they will leave Tokyo with sweet memories, let’s hope the national contingent will not become complacent as there is still much hard work to be done to ensure the Jalur Gemilang will be proudly hoisted in Paris in 2024.

Thank you, Malaysian warriors! — Bernama

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