Asian Games 2023: Highlights and 6 Malaysian athletes to watch
Let's go, Malaysia!
With the Asian Games 2023 currently on its fifth day since its opening on 23 September, the event has captured the attention of sports fans all over Asia for its heart-pumping action. Long-time audiences would know that the Asian Games, also called the Asiad, is one of the most highly anticipated and prestigious sporting competitions in the continent but for the newly acquainted, not to worry—we’ll get you up to speed so you can join in on all the fun!
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Team Malaysia highlights
Malaysia has sent nearly 300 athletes to compete at the 19th Asian Games, a number significantly lower than the 447 sent during the 2018 rendition of the Games in Indonesia. Currently, the medal tally for Malaysia at Hangzhou is two gold, two silver and five bronze, bringing the total to nine medals. Previously, Malaysia won 16 bronze, 13 silver and seven gold medals, totalling 36 medals in 2018.
The national women’s cycling track team made history on 26 September after winning their first-ever team sprint event at Hangzhou. The trio consisting of Nurul Aliana Syafika Azizan, Nurul Izzah Izzati and Anis Amira Rosidi finished in third place and set a new national record of 49.025 seconds, beating out Taiwan for the bronze medal at Chun’an Jieshou Sports Centre.
Meanwhile, national track cyclist Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom had a thrilling match in the men’s sprint on 28 September where he won bronze against China’s Xue Chen Xi in a 2-0 race. The 27-year-old had a slight blunder in the first semi-final heat, where his victory was unfortunately overturned against China’s Zhou Yu due to an infraction. However, the athlete finished strong as the bronze-medal finisher for his maiden individual men’s event at the Games, all things considered.
Elsewhere, Team Malaysia clinched silver at the esports event on 26 September where the team of six faced off against China, the favourite to win the gold. Both teams played a version of the game Arena of Valour, an international version of Tencent’s Honour of Kings, made specifically for the Asian Games.
In saying that, it was Nur Shazrin binti Mohamad Latif who ultimately ended Malaysia’s gold medal drought by winning the first gold for the country on the fourth day of competitions at the women’s sailing event. The 25-year-old athlete hailing from Johor weathered challenging sea conditions at the Ningbo Xiangshan Sailing Centre and came out on top, securing her a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Previously, she won bronze at the 2018 Asian Games.
Following right after her was Mohd Qabil Ambak Mahamad Fathil who clinched Malaysia’s second gold medal to date. The equestrian champion made history by becoming Malaysia’s first-ever gold medalist in the Games’ equestrian event for Individual Dressage on 28 September. The veteran equestrian won silver at the 2018 Asian Games and two bronze medals at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
Ahead, here’s everything to know about the second-largest multi-disciplinary sports event and six Malaysian athletes to look out for.
How it all began
Before the Asian Games, there was the Far Eastern Championship Games. The event was cancelled as tensions rose in the region with the imminence of the Second World War. It wasn’t until the summer of 1948 at the London Olympic Games that conversations began on bringing the competition back.
Discussions were led by the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and India who proposed the idea of the Asian Games, whereby all Asian nations can take part and rebuild solidarity in the region after the war. And so, the first-ever Asian Games was held in New Delhi in 1951. The Olympic Council of Asia took over the sporting event’s regulation in 1982 and just like the Olympics, the Asian Games is held every four years—except the current Hangzhou Asian Games which was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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What started as a competition featuring six sports, 57 events and participation from 11 countries evolved into a huge Games which now consists of 40 sports, 481 events and 41 countries in Hangzhou that closes on 8 September 2023. Taking into consideration the Asian sporting culture, the Asiad also features South East Asia’s sepak takraw and China’s wushu among others.
Notably, this year’s rendition also marks the first time esports gaming will contribute to a country’s total medal count since its introduction to the Games in 2022. Malaysia has won silver in that category after conceding to China in the finals.
Malaysian athletes to watch at The Asian Games 2023
Lee Zii Jia
All eyes are on the 25-year-old badminton champion to bring home a medal at the upcoming badminton games on 29 September. With his towering height of 186 cm and various prestigious accolades under his belt such as being the winner of the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships and gold medalist at his first BWF Super 1000 event at the 2021 All England Open, Lee Zii Jia has proven to be a formidable player on the court. The Malaysian badminton teams are set to battle the South Koreans on Thursday, 28 September.
Shereen Samson Vallabuoy
Another potential gold podium finisher from Malaysia for the track and field events is Shereen Samson Vallabuoy, who will compete at the women’s 400m event. The 25-year-old SEA Games 400m gold medallist created a buzz when she set a new national 400m record with a time of 51.80s in April. Having trained for more than three months in Florida under her American coach Derrick White, Vallabuoy has set her eyes on the prize at the Asian Games 2023. Born to two former national runners, the athlete is currently ranked fourth in Asia and is ready to deliver her best performance yet in her maiden appearance in Hangzhou.
Ng Eain Yow
Probably one of the most likely contenders heavily favoured to take home the gold for men’s singles squash is Ng Eain Yow. Retaining his Asian Championships title in June, he will lead Malaysia’s charge into the event as the number one seed. The 25-year-old is no stranger to the Games as he previously won gold in 2018 for the men’s team event. Watch the Malaysian pride take on his opponents in thrilling matches that will run from 1 to 5 October at the 19th Asian Games 2023.
Pandelela Rinong Pamg and Nur Dhabitah binti Sabri
The diving pair needs little to no introduction. Known as Malaysia’s “Diving Queens”, Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dhabitah are some of the favourites to podium at the women’s synchronised diving event come 30 September. Pandelela is a veteran having won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics for the 10m individual platform event, followed by a silver in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile, Nur Dhabitah is the youngest Malaysian diver to champion two senior international competitions (psst, read our cover story with her here!). Most recently, she won two silvers and a bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The pair finished third at last year’s World Championships. Catch the two divers in action at Hangzhou as they compete for the gold.
If you don’t usually watch the discus throwing event, you might want to start tuning in as our very own Irfan Shamsuddin is one of the favourites to win. The discus thrower was the only medal winner for Malaysia after nabbing the bronze medal at the Asian Championships back in July with an outstanding 59.63m throw—to have a good chance of finishing on the podium in Hangzhou, though, he will need to throw beyond 61m.
Currently ranked number four in Asia, the six-time SEA Games champion showed a season’s best in Hungary in June with a 62.12m effort. He also holds the national record of 62.55m, so here’s to hoping he can do it again to hurl himself to victory! The track and field events will begin on 29 September onwards with the men’s discus throw happening on 2 October.
The Asian Games 2023 is available to watch on RTM and Astro.
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