Sprinter meets qualifying rule for SEA Games

Sprinter meets qualifying rule for SEA Games
National sprinter Muhammad Amiruddin Jamal.

They draw a picture in their minds of loud screams and ever-louder roars as they pace up and down their lane, psyching themselves up, intimidating their rivals alongside with scowls and a warrior's strut.

They envision a hush magically falling all around them as they settle into their blocks, nervous tension growing as they block out all thoughts waiting for the starter's gun.

It is a start every male national sprinter dreams of ahead of a huge 100m contest, and his picture of the finish is always of a final dip of the head before his arms are held aloft in triumph.

It would have been what Muhammad Amirudin Jamal (above) has been dreaming of ever since he started the countdown to the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which will be held in Singapore from June 5 to 16.

The Republic's track star met the qualifying mark of 10.55sec set by Singapore Athletics (SA) last November, when he clocked 10.55 in a race in Perlis, Malaysia.

Each nation has two slots for the race and Calvin Kang's time of 10.48 clocked in the semi-finals of the Singapore Open last Saturday makes him an automatic choice.

Amirudin, 28, is the only other Singapore sprinter who has made the qualifying mark within the one-year time frame but, if SA president Tang Weng Fei has his way, then he will not line up for his country in the most cherished individual event of the SEA Games, which apparently is scheduled on June 9 at the National Stadium.

It was a big shock when Tang told The New Paper on Monday that Amirudin's poor form didn't bode well and he would rather pick Muhammad Elfi Mustapa as the second runner for the 100m.

It is controversial and we wait to find out which two names the SA selection committee will eventually submit to the Singapore National Olympic Council possibly on Friday.

Amirudin is adamant he should be the one based on the qualifying rule.

Tang's argument is that Elfi is a better bet, after the 27-year-old clocked 10.59 in the heats and 10.58 in the semi-finals and final on Saturday - the 2015 Singapore Open was the last qualifying event for the country's track and field athletes.

While there is merit in what Tang says, especially when Singapore has a dearth of talented sprinters, the national track and field body surely has to stick to the rule it itself set, or create a precedent that will throw up all sorts of confusion in future.

In future, maybe the SA can turn to a one-off qualifying meet that is closer to major meets but, for these Games, it must stick with Amirudin, even though he failed to even make the Singapore Open final last Saturday, managing only a 10.82 in the heats and a 10.69 in the semi-finals.

HITTING PEAK FORM

With the SEA Games only two months away, Singapore's track and field chief is clearly worried about the sprinter's form, even if he did win the bronze in 2013.

But the athlete says his coach, former Malaysian sprinter Azmi Ibrahim, has drawn up a blueprint that will see him peak at the SEA Games.

He points to the fact that he is getting faster, after a 10.80 last month in Australia and then the 10.69 last Saturday.

Fuelled by a charged home crowd at a magnificent new stadium, there were whispers of Singapore's most successful sprinters, Gary Yeo and Amirudin, pulling off a huge upset and beating Thailand's defending champion Jirapong Meenapra to the gold in June, but even a medal for the country now seems a stretch.

Especially when the Thais are posting 10.30s and the Malaysians are at 10.40s.

Yeo, silver medallist at the 2011 Games in Indonesia, clocked a 10.58 in the heats last Saturday and was disqualified in the semi-finals. His only other race of note was a time trial where he posted a 10.59.

Yeo's personal best is 10.44 and Amirudin's is 10.46.

Jirapong won gold at the 2013 SEA Games in 10.48 and last August, he froze the clock at 10.31 at a meet in Austria.

This year, SA sent Amirudin and the rest of the 4x100m relay team to Australia for two weeks, while Yeo trained in Japan for three weeks as part of Sport Singapore's Final Push programme, an initiative to increase the competitiveness of the country's athletes for this year's SEA Games.

Yet, the country's two fastest men have come nowhere close to their personal bests while Jirapong has been going faster, so surely Tang and his team at SA must re-look their high performance system and come up with a far better plan.

Amirudin insists he will get only better.

Maybe, Tang's recent words will motivate the sprinter. Perhaps that was what wily Tang intended, after all. What is clear is that because he has met its qualifying mark, SA must back Amirudin.

And a whole nation will hope he gets to the starting blocks on the day of the men's 100m final at the SEA Games, to live out his dream.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 8, 2015.
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