SEA Games: 8 athletes to look out for in Kuala Lumpur

SINGAPORE - It is the biggest multi-sport event to hit Malaysia's shores in 16 years as Kuala Lumpur prepares to host the 29th SEA Games from Aug 19 to 30.

Close to 5,000 of the region's best athletes will be arriving in the Malaysian capital over the coming days. 

Singapore will send 569 athletes - its largest away contingent - and compete in 35 of the 38 sports offered, skipping weightlifting, volleyball and sepak takraw.

Here is a look at eight athletes, four representing Singapore and four representing other countries, who are likely to make waves at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. 

1. Joseph Schooling - Swimming

A name synonymous with sporting excellence, the 22-year-old swimmer will want to bounce back from a self-termed "disappointing" World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where his only medal came in the 100m butterfly, coming in joint-third with Briton James Guy.


ST PHOTO: SIMONE CASTROVILLARI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES 

The SEA Games are a familiar stomping ground for newly-crowned Sportsman of the Year. In the last Games in 2015 on home soil, he won gold in all nine events he participated in, setting new Games records in all of them, including breaking a 33-year national record in the 50m freestyle set by Ang Peng Siong. The swimming events will be held over five days, from Aug 21-26 at the National Aquatic Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

2.  Veronica Shanti Pereira - Athletics


ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN 

The surprise package from the 2015 Games in Singapore, the 20-year-old broke the Republic's 42-year gold drought in sprint events at the Games when she won gold in the 200m sprint, setting a new national record en route as she clocked in at 23.60 seconds. She also won a bronze medal in the 100m event.

Shanti has been tipped by Singapore Athletics president Ho Mun Cheong as one of the Republic's best chances at a gold medal, but will face stiff competition from Vietnam's Le Tu Chinh, who was the fastest runner at the Thailand Open in June, finishing 0.22sec ahead of Shanti. The sprint events at the 2017 Games will take place from Aug 22-26, with Shanti expected to race in the women's 100m (Aug 22), 200m (Aug 23), and the relay events (Aug 26).

3. Feng Tianwei - Table Tennis


PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL TABLE TENNIS FEDERATION 

The 30-year-old paddler wrote her name into the Republic's history books when she won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, becoming the first Singaporean since 1960 to win a singles' medal at the Olympic Games. Four years earlier, she was also part of a trio to clinch the silver medal in the women's team event in the Beijing Olympics.

No stranger to success, Feng will be eager to right the wrongs of the 2015 Games where on home soil, a shock defeat to Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut saw her crash out in the group stages. The world No. 6 beat her Thai counterpart and defending SEA Games champion earlier this month in the T2 Asia-Pacific Table Tennis League (T2Apac), and will surely be hoping for a similar result come Aug 20. Table tennis will be played from Aug 20-26 at MiTEC Hall 7.

4.  Jazreel Tan - Bowling


PHOTO: SINGAPORE BOWLING 

The defending SEA Games champion in the women's masters, 27-year-old Tan and her team of bowlers are another group looking for SEA Games redemption. Despite adding another three silver medals to her individual tally in the 2015 Games, it was the Malaysians who came out of Orchid Country Club as the biggest winners, winning a total of five golds, one more than hosts Singapore.

This year, the tables are turned, with 11 golds (five men's and women's events plus one mixed) on offer at the Sunway Mega Lanes in Petaling Jaya, Tan and the rest of the national bowlers will look to be the ones to spoil the Malaysian's homecoming party. Bowling takes place from Aug 20-25.

5.  Azizulhasni Awang (Malaysia) - Cycling

Standing at just 1.66m tall, the 29-year-old has been dubbed the "Pocket Rocket" due to his small stature. His speed on the track however, is another matter. Azizulhasni is the first Malaysian to don the coveted rainbow jersey, after being crowned world champion in the keirin event at the 2017 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.

With an Olympic bronze medal in the same event from Rio 2016 to his name, as well as a world championship silver medal from 2009, Azizulhasni will be one to watch at the Velodrome Nasional in Nilai. He is expected to race in both the keirin and the sprint events, which will take place from Aug 27-29.

6.  Hoang Xuan Vinh (Vietnam) - Shooting


PHOTO: RUONG VAN VI/VIET NAM NEWS

42-year-old Hoang can be considered Vietnam's version of Joseph Schooling. Like Schooling, Hoang clinched Vietnam's first Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016, beating Brazil's Felipe Wu in the final of the men's 10m air pistol competition, setting a Olympic record in the process with a score of 202.5.

Hoang is also Vietnam's only double Olympic medallist, winning a silver in the men's 50m pistol after narrowly losing out to South Korea's Jin Jong Oh by 2.4 points. A serving army colonel, Hoang is expected to compete in the 10m and 50m pistol events which take place from Aug 21-26 at the National Shooting Range Centre in Subang.

7. Eko Yuli Irawan (Indonesia) - Weightlifting

The three-time defending SEA Games gold medallist in the men's under-62kg category, Eko is also a serial Olympic and world championships medallist. Winning bronze at Beijing 2008 (under-56kg) as well as London 2012 (under-62kg), the 28-year-old went one better in Rio, lifting a total of 312kg in the snatch, and clean and jerk events to clinch the silver medal, 6kg behind Colombia's Oscar Figueroa.

Weightlifting at the 2017 Games in Kuala Lumpur will take place from Aug 28-30. Irawan is expected to compete in the under-62kg category and it will take a brave man to bet against the Indonesian coming out tops for the fourth time.

8. Busanan Ongbamrungphan (Thailand) - Badminton

Thailand's Busanan Ongbumrungpan won her first SEA Games medal at just 17, with a silver in the singles event in Myanmar in 2013. Two years later, she went one better, winning two gold medals in the singles as well as the team event in Singapore. Now at 21, Busanan will be looking to defend her hard-fought title and add to her growing medal cabinet.

With a host of medals from youth-level competitions, including a bronze in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, the shuttler has started to make her mark on the senior level, winning bronze in the 2016 Badminton Asia Team Championships as well as 2017 Badminton Asia Mixed Team Championships.

Badminton at the 2017 SEA Games will be held from Aug 22-29 at the Axiata Arena in KL Sports City.