MALAYSIA’S artistic gymnasts hope vociferous home support will rattle their opponents and turn Kuala Lumpur into a fortress during next month’s Sea Games.
While admitting that the new gymnasts may not be used to the adulation of a home crowd, national women’s artistic team coach Ng Shu Wai believes the pressure to produce gold medals can be turned into positive energy.
Shu Wai’s main worry though is 17-year-old Nur Azira Aziri, one gymnast not in the women’s team that won gold at the 2015 Sea Games.
“When we compete overseas in front of big crowds, nobody really cheers for us so there is no pressure,” said former Commonwealth Games silver medallist Shu Wai when met in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
“But here all the attention will be on us and some of the gymnasts will feel nervous. Azira for example is new and is not used to this kind of atmosphere. But the others are all experienced and should be okay.”
Tan Ing Yueh, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Tracie Ang, Nur Eli Ellina Azmi and Lavinia Jayadev return to defend the team gold while Ing Yueh and Farah will also look to retain the uneven bars and floor titles respectively.
Team manager Azmi Hassan, while not wanting to reveal a gold medal target, said the hope is to exceed the three gold medals won in Singapore which Shu Wai believes is achievable.
“As a coach I have to be positive always,” said Shu Wai. “I am a positive person and the athletes must also be positive. We must not be scared and we must make the opposition fear us because we are competing on home ground.”
Ing Yueh, who also won the vault silver two years ago, is equally optimistic of doing better than 2015.
“There is always pressure because we are competing at home but like coach said we must try to be positive,” said Ing Yueh, 21.
“There are high hopes on us so we have to be mentally strong, perform as a team and try to win gold medal for the country.
“The other countries have also improved and they have new gymnasts we don’t know of. We do visualisation everyday before our routines to prepare for the Sea Games.”
The women’s team remain incomplete as Laivinia is training in Britain and is only due to link up with her teammates later this month.
“I hope she returns before we start centralised training on Aug 1 although we monitor her training through the video visuals she sends to us,” said Shu Wai.
“I don’t want to interfere with her coach’s plan so we let her continue her training there. But we need her to return soon to build up team spirit and strategy.”
In a setback to the women’s team, Nur Eli Ellina injured both her ankles during a training stint in Australia last month and is in a race against time to be ready for the Sea Games.
Azmi hoped the men’s artistic team will be able to win a medal after failing to get on the podium in the team event in 2015 with only Jeremiah Loo winning a silver in the horizontal bar.
“The men’s team will be going to Taiwan on Aug 4-10 for a competition which will be their final preparation for the Sea Games,” said Azmi.
Vietnam won six of eight gold medals in the men’s event in 2015 and Jeremiah is hopeful of ending their dominance.
Joining Jeremiah in the hunt for gold are Tan Fu Jie, Chau Jern Rong, Abdul Azim Othman, Azroy Amierol Jaafar and Zul Bahrin Mat Asri.