Rookie & veteran blow field away

Rookie & veteran blow field away

MYANMAR - One is a young and brash upstart who is tipped to dominate the regional sprint scene for years to come.

The other is a modest veteran who was aiming for a comeback after struggling with injuries in the past three years.

South-east Asia's fastest man and woman do not come more different than Thailand's Jirapong Meenapra and Vietnam's Vu Thi Huong. The only similarity between them is that they won their SEA Games 100m finals convincingly yesterday at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Naypyidaw.

But while Jirapong strutted and pranced all over the track - proudly doing Usain Bolt's famous "Lightning Bolt" pose several times - Huong merely smiled and acknowledged her fans and quietly walked away, knowing that she had achieved what she set out to do. In halting English, the 27-year-old Vietnamese said: "Happy to win.

"Last time I lost, this time I won.

"Good, very good."

The sprinter was referring to the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang, which she had entered completely confident of winning her fourth straight 100m title, and third successive 200m crown.

Instead, she flopped badly, finishing third in both races.

She then retreated from the limelight as she was struck down by niggling injuries.

It was only in September that she returned to action in Vietnam's national championships, competing only in team events. "So many injuries. But I always think I can win," said Huong.

On Tuesday, in Naypyidaw, there were no theatrics from this time-tested veteran after winning the women's 100m race in 11.59 seconds, ahead of Thais Neeranch Klomdee (11.85) and Tassaporn Wannakit (11.91).

She merely carried her country's flag and waved it around a few times before slipping away in satisfaction.

In contrast, Jirapong pumped his fists repeatedly.

He waved his country's flag for as long as the adoring media wished him to, and bellowed out his pleasure at becoming the first 20-year-old to win the blue-riband event since Indonesian Mardi Lestari in 1989.

The Thai finished in 10.48sec.

Indonesia's Iswandi Iswandi (10.51) was second and Singapore's Muhammad Amirudin Jamal (10.55) third.

It took Jirapong more than five minutes before he finished posing for the cameras.

He then headed to to the mixed media zone to face the army of Thai journalists awaiting there.

He said: "Tough race, Indonesians beside me are very good.

"Pushed me to win."

The Thai - who finished fifth at the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympics and anchored the winning Thai 4x100m relay team at the 2009 Asian Youth Games, both in Singapore - has been tipped for greatness since his teenage days.

Now in his first year studying at Bangkok University, Jirapong - who also anchored the victorious 4x100m Thai relay team on Monday - admitted that he likes the feeling of having all eyes on him whenever he wins races.

"I feel good, I feel proud," he said. "Many more wins, I like."

Given his youth and raw talent, he can be confident of getting "many more wins", including matching, or even surpassing, Lestari's feat of three straight Games golds, thus garnering the attention he so craves.

hankeong@sph.com.sg


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