PETALING JAYA: A few rookies have a chance to make headlines and make headlines for Malaysia at the 31st SEA Vietnam Games and the casting leader is none other than sprinter Mohd Azeem Fahmi.
Azeem heads to Hanoi with the reputation of “Malaysia’s Usain Bolt” after clocking 10.37 seconds at the All-Comers in Kuala Lumpur last month to become the country’s fastest man in the 100m this year.
Azeem found himself in the spotlight following the withdrawal of Russel Alexander Taib.
Australian-based Russel was due to defend the last event won by Khairul Hafiz Jantan (2017) and Haiqal Hanafi (2019) but had to be ruled out after a muscle tear that took six to eight weeks to recover.
Azeem, who was only listed in the 4x100m relay previously, will compete in the 100m and 200m events.
National Athletics Head Coach Mohd Manshahar Abdul Jalil says Azeem could be a big shock on his debut.
“His personal season best in the 100m puts him second behind Thai runner Puriphon Boonsorn, who clocked 10.19 seconds this season,” Manshahar said.
“The favorite is Lalu Mohd Zohri from Indonesia who has a personal best of 10.03s but he hasn’t played in any tournament this year. He only clocked 10.26 seconds at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
“I heard that Lalu is suffering from an injury and we don’t know how bad it is as Singapore have a sprinter (Marc Brian Louis) who clocked 10.39 at the Open Singapore last month.
“It all depends on the situation on the day of the competition and how focused they are.
“I think Azeem has a good chance like everyone else if he makes it to the final. We didn’t put any pressure on him targeting him for a medal because it’s his first SEA Games.”
Azeem earned the nickname Usain after clocking 21.24s in the Under-16 200m at National Schools (MSSM) Johor in 2019.
Hanoi will host the SEA Games for the second time since 2003.
Besides Azeem, there are also several exciting newcomers to watch out for in Hanoi.
Poh Yu Tian, 13, is the youngest athlete in the Malaysian contingent, but he’s an up-and-coming chess star. He is already national champion in the rapid and blitz categories in 2021 and intends to stand out in the Open category.
Compound archer Kayalvhily is also on course for success.
The 23-year-old joined the national team just three months ago but proved herself on her international debut by winning a silver medal in the compound team event at the Asian Cup in Phuket in March.
There is also young talent Luqman Hakim Shamsudin in football where the national under-23 team made a stunning start to the campaign by toppling 16-time champions Thailand on Saturday.
The 20-year-old plays for KV Kortrijk in Belgium’s Premier Division A and was among the last players to join coach Brad Maloney’s training camp at Kelana Jaya on April 30.
Luqman last played for the national youth team in the AFC Under-23 qualifiers in Mongolia last October, where the team topped their group to qualify for the next tournament proper.