Lotus add colour to Malaysian sports scene

MAJOR HEADLINES: Lotus team principal Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes (second left) with (from left) Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen, Italy’s Jarno Trulli and Malaysia’s Fairuz Fauzy attend a press conference at the newly announced Malaysian-backed Lotus team in Kuala Lumpur in this Dec 14 file photo. — AFP photo

KUALA LUMPUR: The emergence of the Formula One team from Malaysia, the inconsistent performance of the country’s elite athletes for the London Olympics and the success of the Malaysian contingent at the recent SEA Games in Laos made headlines in the country’s sports scene in 2009.

Although the year began with the spread of Influenza A (H1N1), resulting in many sports tournaments, locally and abroad, to be cancelled or postponed, the pandemic was contained in Malaysia and this enabled the sports activities for the year to be carried out as planned.

The announcement on the formation of the Malaysia F1 team, the Lotus Racing Team, sponsored by three corporate figures – Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin Meranun and SM Nasarudin SM Nasimuddin – through the establishment of 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Bhd (1MRT), made front-page headlines in all newspapers in Malaysia in September.

The Lotus Racing Team’s entry as the 13th team on the F1 grid, as confirmed by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), will make its first appearance at the Bahrain Circuit in March.

Malaysia’s involvement, previously, was through the national petroleum company, Petronas, as a partner in the Sauber Petronas and BMW Sauber teams.

The first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Sports Development held in September and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced an allocation of RM16 million for 2009-2012 for the ‘Road to London 2012’ programme.

Nineteen national athletes are being trained under the programme with the aim of bringing Malaysia’s first Olympic gold from the London Games.

Early this year, Malaysia pinned its gold medal hopes on cycling and badminton at the London Olympics, but the hopes were dashed at the end of this season with their dismal performance and the excuse given was that the athletes were tired from taking part in one competition after another.

In cycling, especially the track event, the hope was on Terengganu’s Azizulhasni Awang, who won two silver medals in the 200m sprint at the World Track Championship in Poland in March and then two gold medals in the same event at the Asia Cycling Championship in Kalimantan, Indonesia, in August.

His best achievement was winning the Grand Prix Medellin in Colombia in October, defeating world champion Gregory Bauge from France.

Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek was full of praise for the young cyclist, regarding him as Malaysia’s ‘golden boy’.

However, Azizulhasni, 21, did not perform as expected at the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester, England and in Melbourne, both held in November, as he was tired and had to also give time to his studies at Deakin University, Melbourne.

The cyclist, nicknamed ‘Pocketrocketman’ by the foreign media, won a bronze in the Keirin event in Manchester and silver in the same event in Melbourne.

Badminton ace Datuk Lee Chong Wei continues to be world number one men’s singles shuttler, winning the super series championships this year – the Indonesia, Switzerland, Malaysia and Hong Kong Open and the World Super Series in Johor Baharu in early December.

He also won the Grand Prix in Malaysia and Macau.

But he did not compete in the 25th SEA Games in Laos, giving fatigue as the reason.

National doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong were back in the top ranking of the World Badminton Federation in early November.

Malaysia is also hoping for gold at the London Olympics in the diving event through Leong Mun Yee and Pandelela Rinong, who won a bronze medal in the World Championship in Rome in June.

For the SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos from Dec 9 to 18, Malaysia sent 348 athletes and 120 officials and they surpassed the 35-medal target by bringing home 40 gold, 40 silver and 59 bronze medals.

Although most of the gold, totalling 15, came from the aquatic events, the one gold medal that Malaysia had been waiting for 20 years was won by the national men’s Under-23 football team.

The team, coach by K Rajagobal, defeated Vietnam 1-0, a victory which could indicate the return of the glory days of Malaysian football.

Malaysia took part in 21 of the 25 sports events at the SEA Games.

They were aquatics (swimming, diving), archery, track and field, badminton, snooker & billiard, boxing, cycling, football, golf, judo, karate, silat, petanque, sepak takraw, shooting, ping-pong, tennis, volleyball, weightlifting, wushu and taekwondo.

It did not take part in four events – soft tennis, wrestling, muay thai and shuttle jiggling.

Malaysia will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of Bath in Britain in February next year to enable Malaysian athletes for the 2012 Olympic Games in London to train there. — Bernama

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