Sports

Malaysia to lead Southeast
Asia's medal hunt

Malaysia will spearhead Southeast Asia's hunt for gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, with the region's hopes resting mainly on badminton, squash, table tennis and possibly lawn bowling.

Malaysia won a record 10 gold medals when it hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998, the first ever to be held in Asia. With 203 athletes headed to India - its largest contingent ever - Malaysia is confident it can reach at least the 1998 level.

"I hope to see our national anthem played at least 10 times," Malaysian Sports Minister Shabery Cheek said. "I hope our athletes will not doubt their own abilities but will press on."

Malaysia's best medal hopes are Lee Chong Wei, the top-ranked men's badminton player, and Nicol David, who won her fifth World Open title earlier this month in Egypt to celebrate 50 straight months as the world's top female squash player.

Lee, nursing a back injury he picked up during the world championships in Paris last month, proved his form by winning the recent Japan Open title, defeating Lin Dan of China 22-20, 16-21, 21-17.

"Chong Wei's immediate task is to ensure Malaysia secures the men's singles gold and help earn the team gold," National Sports Council director general Zolkples Embong said.

David is favored to win her first Commonwealth Games singles gold, the only major honor that has eluded her. She has a bye into the second round and her main rival is expected to be Jenny Duncalf of England.

David could end up with two medals as she resumes her partnership with Ong Beng Hee in mixed doubles. The third-seeded pair won silver in the event at the 2002 Manchester Games.

Malaysia is not expected to create any ripples in the pool, but its best medal prospect comes from synchronized divers Leong Mun Yee and Pandelela Rinung, who won bronze in the 10-meter platform at the world championships. However, Pandelela's double silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last month left the 17-year-old with a neck injury.

The Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation has set a four-gold target in New Delhi, double its two-gold haul at the 2006 Melbourne Games. The medals were provided by Siti Zalina Ahmad in the women's singles and women's triples team.

The 31-year-old Siti Zalina, who will carry Malaysia's flag at Sunday's opening ceremony, is trying to become the first Malaysian to win a hat trick of gold medals in the games.

Also, top-ranked Safuan Said is a strong bet for the men's singles gold.

Singapore is not only sending its largest-ever contingent - 68 athletes and 34 officials - but also the youngest ever with 55 debutants and 29 athletes who are 21 and younger. They will compete in eight out of the 17 events.

Singapore's hopes rest on its table tennis team, which won four of the five golds at the last games in Melbourne. Making his debut at the games is Singapore Sports School student Pang Xue Jie, who is the youngest on his team at 18.

"I expect to see performances which demonstrate fighting spirit and are targeted at achieving personal bests," Singapore chef de mission Annabel Pennefather said. "If all our athletes approach their respective competitions with this mindset, for some their very best would translate to personal bests and-or new national records. For others it would mean medals."

Singapore is also taking part in synchronized swimming for the first time, represented by Gayle Esther Lee, a student at Stanford University in California.

"I love both swimming and artistic gymnastics, so I took up synchronized swimming as it's a combination of these two sports," she said.

Brunei, the tiny oil-rich sultanate on Borneo island, is sending 11 athletes, all of whom will compete in lawn bowling.

"I feel that we could get some surprise wins against the top teams like England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia," Brunei lawn bowling coach Eric Johannes said.

Brunei has never won a medal of any color since it began participating at the Commonwealth Games in 1990.

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