THE gold medals may already be on the board.
But the real excitement of the 24th SEA Games is just starting to be felt as the bulk of the Malaysian contingent begin arriving in Thailand this week.
For five consecutive days since last Saturday, batches of Malaysian athletes and officials have been flying into the Suvarnabhumi International Airport before making their way to their respective bases in Bangkok, Pattaya and the main venue, Korat.
Malaysia are taking part in 40 of the 43 sports contested in the Games, which officially open on Thursday.
Malaysia’s chef-de-mission Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, who got to meet the majority of the national athletes during last week’s centralised camp in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), is in buoyant mood.
“I could sense a feel good factor and eagerness among the athletes while at UPM. The athletes, and in some cases, even the officials, are raring for action and are just waiting for their competitions to start,” said Datuk Zainal.
“The Malaysian secretariats at all the three major venues in Thailand are also up and running. I was in Korat recently for a final inspection of the accommodation and facilities provided for us. I am satisfied with what I saw and can safely say that our contingent will not face much difficulties in settling in.”
Despite sepaktakraw’s late withdrawal, the chef-de-mission insisted that he was not about to revise his personal target of 66 gold medals set for Malaysia.
The National Sports Council’s official target is 64 golds.
Malaysia’s best performance outside the country in the biennial competition was the 61 gold, 49 silver and 65 bronze medals won in the Philippines two years ago.
“Even with some events being dropped and our takraw team’s withdrawal, I am not budging from my 66-gold target. I feel we have a contingent which is good enough to live up to the expectations.”
Zainal also emphasised on the important roles to be played by the more than 300 Malaysian officials to help realise the gold target.
He also delivered a personal message to the athletes and officials to be at their best behaviour at all times while in Thailand.
“I feel the officials are as important as the athletes in a competition. Everyone, be it coaches, managers, masseurs, technical officials or even supporters, has his own role to play to ensure the athletes give their best,” he said.
“I know that I have said it many times before this, but discipline cannot be compromised. It is vital that the Malaysian contingent maintain the dedication and commitment towards achieving excellence. We need to be able to hold our heads high at all times.”
Zainal will arrive in Korat tomorrow together with the fifth batch of more than 100 national athletes and officials.
While the shooting programme ends today, Malaysia can still put several more medals on the board before the Games’ official opening on Thursday.
The gold chase in the gymnastics, table tennis and cycling competitions gets under way ahead of the opening ceremony at His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium in Korat.