Pandelela, Dhabitah face RTG expulsion

KUALA LUMPUR: If the Road to Gold (RTG) programme truly remains faithful to its original purpose — to secure the nation's first gold medal at the Paris Olympics on July 26-Aug 11 — then expect its committee to make several major announcements that may result in divers Pandelela Rinong and Nur Dhabitah Sabri being removed from the initiative tomorrow.

Pandelela, 31, and Dhabitah, 24, will discover their fate after the RTG committee meeting, jointly chaired by Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh and Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria.

Both divers were among the initial 15 athletes identified as potential medal contenders in March last year. However, they did not qualify for the Paris Games.

Despite their last-ditch efforts at the World Aquatics Championships earlier this month, Pandelela and Dhabitah performed poorly and fell short of qualification.

Consequently, they can no longer justify their inclusion in the programme, designed to provide elite athletes with the necessary support to compete for gold medals or podium finishes in Paris.

In addition to sports science support, competition exposure and coaching, RTG athletes also receive an additional monthly allowance of RM3,000.

It's undeniable that Pandelela and Dhabitah have made significant contributions and brought pride to Malaysia on numerous occasions, particularly the former, who won the country's first-ever Olympic medal in diving at the 2012 London Games.

However, the criteria for athletes to remain in the programme, which requires meeting expectations in each periodic review, have been clearly outlined from the outset, leaving no room for dispute.

However, their exclusion from the RTG programme does not mark the end of the road for Pandelela and Dhabitah, who remain firmly as the country's top divers and will continue to receive support from the NSC-run Podium Programme.

The responsibility now falls on both divers to bounce back in upcoming competitions and enhance their chances of reinstatement in the future.

Moreover, with the RTG programme already laying the groundwork and looking ahead to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, where squash makes its debut, discussions within the RTG committee may include plans for this event.

It would not be surprising if potential athletes, particularly current squash stars like Ng Eain Yow and S. Sivasangari, get the nod as early as tomorrow.

During the previous RTG meeting in October last year, squash legend Nicol David, a committee member, was assigned by Yeoh the responsibility of formulating a strategy to ensure a strong pursuit of gold.

Meanwhile, all nine shuttlers will likely retain their positions in the programme despite recent lacklustre results.

It is because they are still ranked in the top 16 of the Race to Paris standings.

They are Ng Tze Yong (men's singles), Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi (men's doubles), Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah (women's doubles) and Chen Tang Jie-Toh Ee Wei (mixed doubles).

As of now, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists Aaron-Wooi Yik, Pearly-Thinaah and Tang Jie-Ee Wei are almost certain of their qualifications. However, the same cannot be said for Tze Yong and Yew Sin-Ee Yi.

Tze Yong's Olympic aspirations were jeopardised after he sustained a lower back injury, requiring minor surgery and ruling him out until at least early April.

Currently sitting on the qualifying borderline at No. 16, he faces stiff competition from closest pursuers such as India's Lakhsya Sen and Taiwan's Lin Chun Yi.

As for Yew Sin-Ee Yi, while they will likely receive a warning, it's improbable that they will retain their place beyond the next review.

Their recent struggles have seen them slip to No. 13 in the Race to Paris standings, and now they require a miraculous turnaround in the next two months to break into the top eight and join Aaron-Wooi Yik in Paris.

Faizul Azim Saiful, [28/2/2024 7:40 PM]

To achieve this, Yew Sin-Ee Yi must win the next three tournaments, starting with the ongoing German Open this week.

The status quo should remain for track cycling aces Azizulhasni Awang and Shah Firdaus Sahrom, as well as weightlifter Aniq Kasdan, who was added to the programme last October.

Since the establishment of the RTG, shuttlers Goh Soon Huat, Shevon Lai, Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing, along with the men's hockey team, were removed from the programme.

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