Tokyo Paralympics ends, Malaysia stands tall

Children with special needs come into our lives, leaving footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same again.

– Inspirational Quotes

The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics has just ended, after 12 days of competition among the world’s best Paralympians.

I have to say that the pandemic lockdown has its positive effects too as I had the opportunity to spend quite a lot of time watching the Paralympics on TV at home.

This must be the first time too that I was able to engross myself with the performances of the Paralympians, including our Malaysian participants.

Those of us who had watched them in action will surely have a better understanding of how exceptionally hard they have to train and the immense sacrifice they have to make to qualify as Paralympians.

Even able-bodied like you and I will probably not be able to emulate their achievements for we lack their drive and discipline. We salute them all.

I’m also glad I took the trouble to learn about the disabilities of some of our Paralympians too.

Bonnie Bunyau Gustin, our Sarawakian powerlifting champion, was born with polio. He gave Malaysia the first gold medal in the 72kg category on Aug 28, the fourth day of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Then another Sarawakian, national powerlifting athlete Jong Yee Khie who had a leg amputated after being involved in a road accident bagged a second medal for Malaysia, a silver, in the men’s 107 kg category.

Bonnie, 22, who was born in Serian, has his disabled father Gustin Jenang, a former national powerlifter, to thank for. He credited his dad for his successes, describing him as his guiding light and strength.

The silver for Yee Khie, a 32-year-old hairdresser from Batu Kawa, Kuching, meant he got to make up for his disappointment after finishing seventh in the 97kg category when making his Paralympics debut in Rio 2016.

Well, amid the political gloom in the country, at least several of our Paralympians gave Malaysians plenty to cheer about over the past two weeks or so.

Two more gold medals came from Cheah Liek How (Men’s Single Badminton SU5), Abdul Latif Romly (Men’s Long Jump T20) and the last silver was won by Chew Wei Lun (Boccia – Mixed individual BC1).

The Tokyo Paralympics might have ended on Sept 5 but Malaysia still stands tall today.

The Malaysian delegation to the 2020 Summer Paralympics had a target to win three gold medals, matching the medal haul of the previous edition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But we did better. We managed to achieve this target with three gold medals and two silver medals, totalling five medals, making it the most successful outcome in our Paralympic history, surpassing the record of four medals in the 2016 games.

It is also interesting to note that Malaysia has been an ardent participant at the Paralympic Games, making its debut at the 1972 Summer Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany.

We were absent for three consecutive editions of the Summer Paralympics, before returning at the 1988 Games in Seoul. Since then, Malaysia has participated in every subsequent edition of the Summer Paralympics.

Indeed, our Malaysian Paralympians have carried the Jalur Gemilang high, winning medals at every Games all the way to the just-concluded Tokyo Paralympics.

Talking of the Paralympics, I recall with sadness and disappointment how Kuching lost the golden opportunity to host the World Para Swimming Championships, scheduled from July 29 to Aug 4 in 2019.

Why? All because of politics and then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s anti-Semitic stand. He would not allow Israeli swimmers to enter Malaysia and participate in the championships.

Kuching was given the honour of hosting the world swimming event a year earlier in 2018 when Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak was the prime minister.

So, it was okay for Israel to take party in the championships under Najib, but not under Mahathir. I have to ask: Where is the consistency here about the non-diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Israel?

I remember writing at length in January 2019, asking Putrajaya to compensate the Sarawak government after forcing the cancellation of the event.

“The federal government should work out a compensation package to Sarawak for the losses suffered. What Putrajaya could never compensate in dollars and cents is how the great names of Kuching, my home city, and Sarawak, my dear homeland, have been sullied by this international outcry.

“By being the innocent host venue, Kuching and Sarawak are probably now on the “blacklist” of international sports organisations. Our lovely cat city and beautiful hornbill land will not likely get another chance to host any Olympic-associated event, probably for a long time to come. Thank you so much, Putrajaya.

Please, let us not mix sports with politics. We will get nowhere if we do so.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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