Tough Asian Games test for Paris hopefuls

KUALA LUMPUR: Tan Sri Norza Zakaria today expects the Hangzhou Asian Games from Sept 23 to Oct 8 to be a key yardstick for athletes, especially those in the Road to Gold (RTG) programme, ahead of next year's Paris Olympics.

The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president said this is because Malaysian athletes will mostly face the same athletes in both events.

"If you are talking about badminton, there is not much difference between the Olympics and the Asian Games," said Norza in Kuala Lumpur.

"At the Olympics, you have Denmark, but besides that, all the formidable (badminton) threats are from Asia.

"In (track) cycling, we will also face some of the same rivals.

"For (field) hockey, we have a good draw and hopefully can reach the final and win the gold.

"This (gold) will be our (qualifying) ticket to the Olympics.

"It (Asian Games) will be a benchmark (tournament) for us to gauge our progress ahead of the Olympics.

"Athletes, especially those in the RTG, will want to perform well and show that they deserve the support the government has provided them.

"I believe (RTG coordinator) Datuk Stuart Ramalingam has said that the review for RTG athletes will be done after the Asian Games, and I agree with that.

"The Asian Games is a big platform for these athletes, and whatever they have done (in training) over the past year has been to prepare them for this (Asiad) as well as Paris."

Norza announced the selection of track cyclist Shah Firdaus Sahrom and squash player S. Sivasangari as joint flag bearers for the Asian Games.

He was speaking after officiating the national contingent selection letter-presentation ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.

A total of 289 athletes will compete in 22 sports in Hangzhou. This is fewer than the 447 athletes who represented Malaysia at the 2018 Indonesia edition.

Norza said Malaysia is sending a smaller contingent this time as more emphasis has been placed on selecting athletes who can challenge for medals.

RTG is an elite athlete preparation programme that provides top athletes the additional support they need to challenge for gold in Paris, Los Angeles 2028 as well as other major competitions.

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