NST Leader: Southeast Asia's sub-10 race is on

This should set Malaysians' pulse racing as the country looks to its fastest man, Azeem Fahmi, to do a "sub-10" — which means running the 100 metres in under 10 seconds.

American Jim Hines was the first human to break the 10-second barrier with a 9.95 run in 1968, but till today no one from Southeast Asia has been able to do the sub-10. In the whole of Asia, only a handful have made the quantum leap into the sub-10 dimension in the century sprint.

But after Azeem ran an electrifying 10.09s for a new national record at the World Junior Athletics Championships in Cali, Colombia, last week, Malaysians believe he has what it takes to crack the 10-second barrier. The thought is enough to give athletics fans an adrenaline rush as only 0.1 second stands between Azeem and that magical mark.

But Azeem's coach, Amir Izwan, has admitted that he can't make the speedster go faster into sub-10. Only sports science can propel him into that region.

To get such expertise, the 18-year-old needs to go to the United States. To this end, the National Sports Council is arranging for him to train long term under nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis at the University of Houston from January next year.

Well, it doesn't get any better — Malaysia's best track talent under the tutelage of Lewis, arguably America's greatest athlete in history. And America's training programmes are second to none. Last month, the United States demonstrated its sprinting prowess at the World Championships with a 1-2-3 finish in the men's 100m through Fred Kerley, Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell, respectively.

Azeem is born to run and blessed with fast-twitch muscles, making him a natural sprinter. But even that is not enough. He needs sports science to enhance his power. Incidentally last year, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported how science has led to Japanese runners doing sub-10s.

Two decades of scientific studies have helped the Japanese runners shave tiny fractions of a second in their 100m dashes. The newspaper said analyses on velocity and technique, combined with hard work by the sprinters and their coaches, have led to three sub-10 runs over the past four years.

In recent years, Malaysia has seen its shooting stars like Badrul Hisyam Manap and Khairul Hafiz Jantan blaze the track, but eventually sputtered. That is a cautionary tale for Azeem to avoid a similar path.

While hardly any of Malaysia's earlier national 100m champions were sub-10 material, Azeem seems like the real deal as his times were consistently in the low 10s. But he should know it is not only about training under Lewis, as many sprinters from round the world are training under him too.

Azeem needs an alchemy of science, ambition and discipline to rocket his body towards sub-10 space. And he is not alone in this region. Two other Southeast Asian teenagers — Indonesia's Lalu Muhammad Zohri and Thailand's Puripol Boonson — are just as fast, if not faster. Expect the three speed demons to push each other in years to come.

The race to the first sub-10 milestone in Southeast Asia is on. And Malaysia's fastest man had better work hard if he doesn't want to be left behind.

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