KUANTAN: Three Orang Asli girls who are hardly known in the chess fraternity here made heads turn at the 18th Asean Age Group Chess Championships at a hotel here today.
Showing no jitters, the trio - Veronica Mahdan, 16, Lanida Dahlan,14, and Erni Sharira Yusri, 15, - battled against the odds to contribute two gold, one silver and two bronze medals for Malaysia.
Lanida, who won two gold medals in under-14 category, said since it was their first time competing in an international chess tournament, their coach Safri A. Razak did not want to put any pressure on them and told them to participate to gain exposure.
Eldest of four siblings, she said at the beginning rounds she felt a little nervous especially competing with participants from around the region but slowly she began to enjoy it and fully focused on each game.
"All this while, I have only represented my school and state....this is a lifetime opportunity for me and my friends. This is also the longest I have been staying away from my family...the nine-day tournament ends today and we will be returning home tomorrow," said Lanida from Kampung Buluh Nipis Orang Asli settlement in Bukit Ibam , Rompin.
Veronica, who won one silver and one bronze medal in the under-16 category, said her move to pick chess as a co-curricular activity during primary school was now paying dividends.
"Most of my friends choose netball, athletics and other physical games but I opted for the strategy board game. Many laughed at me saying not many from our community know how to play the game and I will quit soon.
"However, I began to enjoy the game and managed to represent the state four times in various age categories in the Malaysian Schools Sports Council tournament and other open-competitions. I consider myself very fortunate to participate in a international competition this year," she said, hoping to gain experience in more international tournaments in the future.
Erni Sharira, who won a bronze medal, said there were occasions during the competition here when she felt a little inferior especially when playing against opponents who displayed huge confidence but she remained determined to perform well.
Donning the team Malaysia jersey, the trio were among nine Orang Asli participants aged between 10 and 16 years old from the Jakun tribe in Rompin who took part in the nine-day competition which attracted some 600 chess players from all over Asia.
Safri, a teacher from SK Buluh Nipis in Bukit Ibam, who accompanied the participants for the competition, said the students' passion for chess was the driving force for their success.
"The students were eager to participate here and I am glad we managed to contribute some medals for the country," he said.
The tournament which featured seven age group categories - below eight years, Under-10, 12, 14 ,16, 18 and open category - was jointly organised by the Asean Chess Academy and Pahang Chess Association.