The sports fraternity ushered in changes with the appointment of Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, 26, as the new Youth And Sports Minister after the GE14. The youngest full minister in the cabinet, he began his first official day by telling his ministry to stop calling him YB (Yang Berhormat).
“The title YB makes me feel old. Just call me bro,” he said.
To live up to his ministerial role, he rallied his team to keep fit and encouraged them to embrace an active lifestyle. Syed Saddiq rejected a scholarship offer from Oxford University in Britain, to serve in public service the year before.
His first big test was managing the finances – the elite-only Podium Programme introduced by his predecessor Khairy Jamaluddin – was trimmed down and a four-tier system introduced for athletes capable of winning medals at the Olympic Games.
A big gaming fan himself. Syed Saddiq also intends to raise the profile of e-Sports; the government has already approved RM10mil to promote the industry. – Lim Teik Huat
Fight Of His Life
Shuttler Lee Chong Wei sent shock waves through the nation when he revealed that he had been diagnosed with nose cancer. But the Malaysian fighter is not quitting the sport.
The super-fit 36-year-old withdrew from the World Championships and Asian Games in August and sought treatment in Taiwan. Many thought Lee’s career was over, but the three-time Olympic silver medallist showed that he was inseparable from the sport.
Fuelled by his strong desire to pursue an Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games, Lee vows to return at the All England in March next year. Declaring himself cancer-free, he recounted the two-and-a-half-month ordeal in Taiwan as the “toughest battle of his life”. – Tan Ming Wai
Skating To Victory
After taking a leap of faith by moving to Ontario, Canada, in 2016 to train under Michael Hopfes, Malaysia’s figure skater Julian Yee became one of the nation’s most adored athlete. He made history by being the first figure skater for Malaysia to compete at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February.
Julian took the opportunity of the Winter Games’ new ruling, which allowed skaters to perform to songs with lyrics and took a trip on the soul train by dancing to the Godfather of Soul by James Brown. Julian finished at 25th place and missed the cut by one rung, but won the hearts of the audience with his personal best.
He also featured on the first episode of the Olympic Channel documentary Far From Home, telling the story of how he trained in shopping malls to qualify for the figuring skating event. – Joash De Ee Silva
Harimau Malaya Roared
No one fancied Malaysia to do well in the AFF Suzuki Cup, but coach Tan Cheng Hoe and the boys silenced critics by producing spirited performance to qualify for the final.
Unfortunately, the Harimau Malaya lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in a two-leg football final. They drew 2-2 at National Stadium in Bukit Jalil and lost 0-1 at the MyDinh Stadium in Hanoi.
Malaysia’s highlight in the tournament was beating reigning champions Thailand in the semi-finals. What captivated the hearts of many was the team’s unity and also Cheng Hoe’s philosophy of attacking football.
People the country over wanted to be part of the action, the boys certainly did their part to unite the nation with their gutsy performances. – T. Avineshwaran
Surprising Upsets At World Cup
There were several firsts in this year’s magical World Cup in Russia. A whopping 3.4 billion people watched the football fiesta, which is nearly half the total world population of 7.6 billion.
Goals may not have been at a record high, but late game-winners were and the introduction of a new technology – video assistant referee (VAR) system – made Russia a standout tournament.
Germany became the fourth of the last five defending champions to go out in the group stage, proving that the World Cup jinx exist. Heavyweights Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Portugal were shown early exits. England reached the semi-finals and their hotshot striker Harry Kane won the Golden Boots with six goals. And Belgium made heads turn by finishing third.
Beaten finalist Croatia was built around midfielder Luka Modric and the team proved that the underdogs do have their day. Les Bleus’ 4-2 victory over Croatia in the final, showed that collective effort rather than star individuals deliver the result. – K. Rajan
Winning Against The Odds
Youngster Rafiq Ismail defied the odds to win the singles event in the men’s World Championships in Hong Kong in December. The bowler came from behind to defeat 2014 winner Dan MacLelland of Canada 217-204 to become the first men’s world champion from Malaysia in 39 years.
Rafiq, 21, ended a long wait dating back to 1979 when J.B Koo, Allan Hooi and Edward Lim triumphed in the trios in the Manila edition. The gold was Rafiq’s first medal in his third attempt at the world meet, and is the first male bowler to finish on podium in the singles event.
He has won at the SEA Games, Asian Championships and the Asian Games in Indonesia in August. In Asiad, he created history as the first Malaysian to win the Masters gold. – Tan Ming Wai
Malaysian Cycling Ambassador
The Pocket Rocketman Azizulhasni Awang, 30, is truly an ambassador for Malaysian cycling. He ended the season by winning a bronze in the World Cup in Germany – a first podium finish for him in seven years and one of his best performances in recent years.
Prior to his world meet exploit, he was in his own league at the Asian Games in Indonesia in August. Azizulhasni ended his third Asiad outing with a complete set of medals and became the only Malaysian athlete from an Olympic sport to deliver in Jakarta.
The Dungun-born won the men’s sprint gold, a day after leading Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom and Muhd Fadhil Zonis to break a 10-year national record for silver in the team sprint. In his pet event keirin, he came in third. – K. Rajan
Four Times A Champ
Body builder Lilian Tan flexed her way to her fourth title in the women’s 55kg category at the World Bodybuilding and Physical Fitness Championships in Chiangmai, Thailand. Hailing from Penang, Tan is the only Asian athlete to win it four times.
She also took home the gold in the 30-year-and-above category. Her earlier triumphs were in Bangkok in 2012, Mumbai (2014) and Pattaya (2016). She is a shining example of what one can achieve with strong drive and determination. – Lim Teik Huat
Breaking Decade-Old Record
Sprinter Azreen Nabila Alias was the cherry on the cake for Terengganu at the 19th Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Perak. The iron lady bagged the Sportswoman of the Games with three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m and broke a 10-year Sukma record in the 100m dash.
Thanks to Azreen and other strong performances, Terengganu emerged as the best sporting state in the country when they were crowned overall champions. The East Coast state were overall champions for four consecutive editions in 2008 (Terengganu), 2010 (Melaka), 2011 (Kuala Lumpur) and 2012 (Pahang). – T. Avineshwaran
Four Golds For Young Skater
After winning four gold medals at the ISI Asia Skate Shenzhen 2018 championships in China, Sree Abiraame might very well be another Malaysian hope for the Winter Olympics in the future. She won gold in the speed racing, freestyle 1, solo competition freestyle 1 and artistic freestyle 1 and 2 in the tournament for under-seven.
Sree, who is able to do figure and speed skating, was introduced to figure skating at the age of three. For the 2019 season, Sree who is studying at Kingsley International School in Selangor, will be taking part in Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Yunnan (Skate Asia 2019) for the ISI Asia Skate championships.