LET down by an insipid performance in the athletics programme of the last Sukma (Malaysia Games) in Perak in 2018, the Penang State Sports Council (PSSC) has hired 10 part-time coaches to develop a stronger team to compete for medals in the 20th Sukma in Johor in April next year.

Although Penang finished with 32 gold, 30 silver and 30 bronze medals for an overall seventh placing out of 15 contingents, the team failed to win a single gold out of the 45 gold medals at stake in athletics.

It was a debacle.

Sending only a token team, Penang managed to win one silver medal through heptathlete Koh Ann Yi and a bronze medal through Hong Xyan in the women’s 800m.

Chai (right) being briefed by some of the coaches on the progress of their trainees at the coaches unit in the Penang State Sports Council.

After its return, PSSC soon went back to the drawing board.

“We were once an athletics powerhouse. We want to bounce back and have turned to our former stars to help out,” said PSSC director Harry Chai Heng Hua, 42.

“We’ve roped in two foreign coaches and eight local coaches. Some may say the local coaches are already old but to me they are ‘golden’ coaches.

“One coach for instance is former Munich Olympian Peyadesa. Even when he is not in our stable, you can see him coaching youngsters at Polo Ground and other parks.

“And who knows that from his group of runners, he may produce a star or two.

“Our veteran coaches have immense experience and invaluable knowledge to impart. So, why not utilise their expertise?”

Chuah Siew Imm Venosh (left) slamming down Ummi Nazeerah Amiran in a Sukma judo training session at the Penang State Sports Council complex. Watching them in training are (in batik, from right) Chai and his assistant sports development sports officers Chiam Ter Min and Chew Kok Rui.

Some of the Penang Sukma coaches are engaged full-time and some part-time. The coaching staff is made up of Hazril Hassan, Viknasvaran R. Umapathy, Rifat Artikov, Olyesa Gasparyan (full-time), Baba Al Haris Sharbudeen, Lim Chew Peng, Mohd Firdouz Mazlan, Suntheren Gopal (part-time – national/state backup squad), Asrul Affendi, Datuk Tambu Krishnan, Mohd Nadri Mahmood (part-time – grassroot development), Mohd Hamdi Yusof, Lim Swee Peng, PLBS Peyadesa, Choo Fook Kheong (support coaches – schools and others).

Chai, who graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in 2001 and a Master’s in Public Administration in 2004, became acting PSSC director following the retirement of Frederick Tan, a motivational leader, in November 2019.  He officially assumed the director’s post on May 1, 2020 – 10 years exactly after starting out as PSSC’s administrative officer.

To develop athletics or for that matter any sports for the state, Chai believes that strong collaboration with the state Education Department is essential to harness budding talents in schools.

But unfortunately now, he said PSSC could not go to the schools and neither could the students from hostels come to them because of the current Covid-19 situation.

The students picked for training have been told to train on their own and also follow online guidance.

He said Penang athletes may not make a huge impact yet in the coming Sukma in Johor but are likely to make their presence felt in subsequent Sukma.

Venosh lifting up Ummi and about to throw her on to the mat in a Sukma judo training session at the Penang State Sports Council complex.

Eighty percent of their preparation, Chai said, are going on smoothly for the whole Penang Sukma team.

Out of 31 sports that would be contested in Johor from April 2 to 10 (which was postponed from July this year), five sports, namely netball, men’s basketball, rugby, cricket and beach volleyball, have not reached the qualifying criteria set by PSSC.

Chai said Penang’s medal hopes are on archery, karate, wushu, judo, swimming, gymnastics, silat, sepak takraw and badminton.

Penang is likely to miss US-based swimmer Elynn Tan Yilin, who bagged five golds in the Perak Sukma in 2018. A student at Iowa State University, she is unlikely to fly back again just for Johor Sukma because of quarantine requirements and the unpredictability of the Covid-19 situation.

In badminton, Chai said Penang would also miss Goh Jin Wei, who is making a comeback after being laid low by an illness. Jin Wei is expected to take part in the Malaysian Open which clashes with Johor Sukma.

With five months to go, Chai said Penang’s target is to improve on their 32-gold medal haul and aim for the top five placing.

While Penang and several other states are preparing earnestly for the Games, the spike in Covid-19 cases is of great concern.

A decision is expected to be made next month or early next year on whether the Johor Sukma will proceed as scheduled or not.

Source: Buletin Mutiara