NAYPYITAW - Three down, 37 to go. With the 27th edition of the SEA Games officially opening in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Wednesday, Malaysia have had a head start in their quest for 40 gold medals - having won three through wushu.
And all three wushu golds were delivered by women - Diana Bong Siong Lin (nanquan), Phoon Eyin (qiangshu) and Tai Cheau Xuen (nandao). The wushu competition ended Tuesday.
A total of 556 Malaysian athletes will take part in 29 of the 33 sports which are being contested in Myanmar.
Malaysia will not feature in the traditional boat race, wrestling, kempo and vovinam.
Besides wushu, the other gold medals are targeted from diving (seven); athletics, karate (five each); swimming, pencak silat, sailing (three each); archery, shooting, hockey (two each); and body building, cycling, golf, football and badminton (one each).
In the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, Malaysia set a target of 45 gold medals but the contingent did exceptionally well to return with 59 golds, 50 silvers and 82 bronzes from the 38 sports they took part in.
This time, the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and National Sports Council (NSC) set a lower target because the hosts have dropped a few sports which Malaysia are good at - like bowling, track cycling and squash.
Chef-de-mission Datuk Wira Amiruddin Embi said after the flag raising ceremony at the Games Village on Tuesday that it is early to predict whether Malaysia can achieve more than the target set by OCM and NSC.
"We will take it one step at a time ... we must first reach the 40-gold mark before thinking beyond that," said Amiruddin, who is also the president of the Malaysian Rugby Union (MRU).
He added that the Malaysian athletes are in high spirits and well-prepared to give their best in the Games.
"They must strive to do well to win the gold. I have suggested to OCM to give RM1,000 as incentive to athletes who win the gold medal in Myanmar. This will surely inspire and motivate them to perform their best," said Amiruddin, who was impressed with the accommodation at the Games Village and the stadiums in Naypyitaw.
OCM secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi praised the wushu exponents for achieveing their target, saying it was a good start for Malaysia.
"I am confident that we will be able to surpass the 40-gold medal target," said Kok Chi.
NSC director general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong is also optimistic that the athletes can surpass the target.
"We could have won more gold medals in wushu as we had world class athletes but it is a subjective sport and the hosts ended up winning more golds," said Zolkples.
"However, I advise national athletes to be extra careful with what they eat because (wushu exponent) Diana was purging yesterday."
Malaysia's best achievement in the SEA Games was in the Kuala Lumpur edition in 2001, when they bagged a total of 111 gold medals.
So, can Malaysia achieve the 40-gold target set by OCM and NSC?
Well, we will know the answer in the next two weeks, won't we?