Discus king dethroned

Discus king dethroned

His familiar war cry rang out at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium for the sixth, and last, time but his final effort fell short.

With that, a behemoth in South-east Asian athletics fell on Sunday in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

After a 10-gold (nine discus and one hammer throw) haul spanning close to two decades, age finally caught up with Singaporean James Wong as the reign of the region's discus king came to an end.

Now 44, his best effort of 50.82m was not good enough for even a podium finish as he placed fifth - his worst result since his debut in 1987.

The gold went to Malaysia's Muhammad Irfan (53.16m).

Since his 1999 national record of 59.87m, Wong's results have been in a steady decline but were still good enough for gold in every edition except 2007 - when he retired briefly.

But at the return of the biennial competition to Myanmar since 1969, the year of his birth, that proud streak has come to an end. Still, he said: "I don't feel disappointed or sad. I came out and I tried my best.

"I'm happy that I got a season's best result today to end my career.

"It's very tough having to push, push and push.

"I have no regrets. Maybe now, I don't need to train so hard anymore."

With the end of his reign, a young upstart - just as ambitious and confident as Wong was when he started out - has emerged.

After Irfan let fly his winning effort in his final attempt to better Thai silver medallist Narong Benjaroon's 52.45m and Indonesian bronze medallist Hermanto Hermanto's 51.96m, the 18-year-old king-slayer sprinted onto the field before falling to his knees to kiss the grass turf of the stadium.

Draped with his country's flag, a 15-minute victory celebration followed as the University of Malaya undergraduate flexed his biceps and hammed it up for the tailing horde of photographers.

Irfan, who also won the Hong Kong, Vietnam and Brunei Opens this year, has enjoyed a fast rise to the top.

In only a month, the Kuala Lumpur-born athlete, who trains under Slovakian coach Frantisek Petrovic, has extended his personal best - and his nation's record of 49.90m - by 3m.

He said: "I was feeling confident when I walked in today. I'm not afraid of Wong.

"Since I was 16, I've been hearing 'James Wong', 'James Wong', 'James Wong'.

"Sometimes, I wonder how he can keep doing it because of his age. So, you have to give him some respect."

Later, the dethroned king strode up to his usurper. Pleasantries were exchanged and a challenge was issued.

Wong, who set the Games record of 59.50m in 1999, told Irfan: "Break it if you can."

But the Malaysian revealed that he wants more than just Wong's record.

In fact, it is the Singaporean's nine-gold discus tally that Irfan is gunning for.

"Of course, I can," he said, when asked if he could overtake that tally. "I can do it and win even more."

Making a bid from 2015, in Singapore - no less.

Would victory on Wong's homeground make it any sweeter?

Quipped the new champion: "More shiok (a colloquial expression for sheer pleasure), lah."

ugenec@sph.com.sg


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