(BERNAMA) - Thailand's top sprinter Jirapong Meenapra has admitted that Malaysian sprint ace Khairul Hafiz Jantan's blistering form has made him the best sprinter in the region right now and the man to beat at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, especially in the 100m and 200m.
According to Jirapong, Khairul's recent exploits has also made the Melaka-born sprinter among the best in South-east Asia, putting him head and shoulders above other regional sprinters.
"Khairul Hafiz Jantan is the best in South-east Asia at the moment. With his personal best in (the) 100m and 200m, he is also among the best in Asia," he told Bernama, after a training session at the Thammasat University-Rangsit.
"The Speedy Jantan", as the 18 year-old Malaysian sprinter is known by, holds the national record for 100m and 200m after setting a time of 10.18 seconds and 20.90 seconds in respective events, last year and last month.
Jirapong said he competed against Khairul during the Thailand Open in Bangkok in June where the latter emerged victorious, but warned observers not to read too much into the result as he was not 100 per cent fit and was nursing an injury during the race.
"I was nursing an injury during that race and overall, my fitness was between 70 to 80 per cent at that time. Now (it) is different as I am 100 per cent fit and ready to reach my peak in the KL SEA Games," said Jirapong, who is a post-graduate student at the Bangkok University.
Jirapong, 24, who was the toast of Thailand's athletic fans when he bagged the 100m and 200m during the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, has set a modest target during the KL SEA Games which will begin officially on Aug 19.
"My target is a podium finish in both the 100m and 200m during the SEA Games," said the Surat Thani native, who disappointed his countrymen when he could only manage fifth spot in the 100m and bronze in the 200m during last SEA Games in Singapore two years ago.
That result left him deeply disappointed as many people in Thailand had placed high expectations on him to successfully defend the nation's double gold medal feat that was achieved in Myanmar.
For the KL SEA Games, the friendly and affable Jirapong has taken a different approach towards his preparations by reducing the pressure so as to serve him better in the competition.
"This time around, my coaches and I have set my training schedule without exerting much pressure on me. I think this type of training is better and I don t feel any pressure going to Kuala Lumpur. I just want to enjoy myself," he said.
He is confident that he will perform clock better times with less pressure and expectations riding on his shoulders.
Jirapong has set a target of 10.30sec in the 100m and 20.80sec in the 200m at the KL Games.
Besides Khairul, Bobby Yaspi and Iswandi from Indonesia as well as Le Truong Vinh from Vietnam have also clocked good times in the 100m and 200m, and will be in the medal hunt, he said.
According to Jirapong, Eric Cray from the Philippines, who won the 100m at the 2015 Games will not be defending his title in Kuala Lumpur to focus on his pet event, the 400m hurdles.
Filipino-American Cray won the blue riband event two years ago with a time of 10.25sec.