SEREMBAN: The Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (Asum) are targeting five gold medals from swimming in the Korat SEA Games, one better than in the previous series in Manila two years ago.
But if performances in the recent Japan international meet and the just concluded 50th Malaysian Open are of any indication, the target should be surpassed easily.
Daniel Bego will be the swimmer to beat in the butterfly and freestyle races, having posted the fastest times this year among the swimmers in the region.
In the meet in Chiba, the 17-year-old set national records in qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 200m freestyle (1:51.68) and 200m butterfly (1:59.40).
A week later at the Malaysian Open, he lowered the 200m freestyle record to 1:51.66 and finished the championships with seven individual gold medals.
In the SEA Games, Daniel is also the favourite to win the 100m butterfly. He is the only swimmer in the region thus far to clock a sub-55.
He set a national record of 54.40 in taking silver in the World Youth Championships in Brazil last year and clocked 54.84 in a meet in Japan.
And if he is in top form, Daniel is also in with a shot to win the 100m and 400m freestyle races.
While the hope is on Daniel to deliver in the absence of former top backstroker Lim Keng Liat this time, the return of Siow Yi Ting means Malaysia can look forward to at least two gold medals from her.
The Malaysian women did not win a gold medal in the Manila Games but Yi Ting should be able to regain her 200m breaststroke and individual medley titles from Singapore's Nicolette Teo.
Yi Ting, who missed the previous SEA Games in Manila because of her exams, showed that she has the speed by setting her first national record in the 50m breaststroke in Seremban last week and there is ample time for her to recover her form.
And there is hope too on the much improved Khoo Cai Lin to surprise in the women's longer distance races in the SEA Games.
Cai Lin clocked winning times of 4:19.65 and 8:57.33 to beat the SEA Games second-place qualifying marks in the 400m (4:23.76) and 800m (9:02.20) freestyle races in Seremban.
Cai Lin, who qualified for the SEA Games from the Singapore Open earlier, would have earned an early ticket for the Beijing Olympics if the Malaysian Open had been sanctioned in time as a qualifying meet.
Asum secretary Edwin Chong said that Cai Lin was certainly a gold medal contender in the Korat Games.
“There are chances for her to pull it off and win her first SEA Games gold medal,” he said.
“We do not want to put too much pressure on her or Daniel or Yi Ting. But winning five gold medals are certainly within our reach.”
Asum have received the approval from the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) to sent 23 swimmers to the Korat Games.
Fifteen will go under Category A while the rest are under Category B, making it one of the largest ever swimming squads going for the SEA Games.
Malaysia only had a two-male and four-female team for the Manila Games.
“We did not have a men's relay team in Manila. We will definitely compete in all the relay events in Korat and we will have two swimmers for most of the individual events,” said Edwin.
“Most of the swimmers are youngsters and we want to expose them for the future.”