24/06/2024 11:06 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 (Bernama) -- As a Malay proverb goes,”tuah ayam nampak di kaki, tuah manusia siapa yang tahu” ( the fate of the chicken is from its claws, but not so for man)… this is the queasy situation that awaits two national athletic gems Muhammad Azeem Mohd Fahmi and Shereen Samson Vallabouy, ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games starting in July.

This is because only one of the two athletes based in the United States (US) will make their Olympic debut in Paris 2024 through one wildcard ticket that will be decided by the Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF) after both athletes failed to qualify for Paris on merit.

The dilemma sprang after Muhammad Azeem’s all-year effort to qualify on merit in the men’s 100 metres (m) and Shereen in the women’s 400m met with a deadend.

The other way to qualify on merit through world ranking is also seen as slim for both athletes, as Muhammad Azeem and Shereen need to be in the best 56 and 48 groups in their respective events by the end of this month, which looks remote.

Muhammad Azeem is currently ranked 67th while Shereen is 68th.

Based on the established guidelines, any country that does not have an athlete or relay quartet that qualifies on merit will be allowed to send either the best male or female athlete in either the 100m, 800m or marathon events.

Action at the Olympic Games, which is the world's most prestigious sports stage, definitely pays a handsome dividend, a ‘high returns’ of exposure and experience that is a very valuable stepping stone in an athlete’s career.

In the context of Muhammad Azeem and Shereen, both of them have proven their abilities with achievements in competitions and games in recent years, thus deserving consideration to perform in Paris 2024.

At the age of 20, Muhammad Azeem holds the status as Malaysia's fastest runner with a record of 10.09 seconds (s) and managed to create a sensation when he finished fifth in the 100m final of the 2022 World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Colombia.

A year later, he won the bronze medal in his favourite event at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games with a record of 10.11s, to end the country’s wait of over four decades for a podium finisher in the blue ribbon event since (Datuk) Rabuan Pit won gold in the 1982 New Delhi edition.

However, the Perak-born sprinter was seen struggling since the beginning of this year and was unsuccessful to record the qualifying time limit of 10s or place himself in the top 56 in world ranking to earn an automatic ticket.

Muhammad Azeem's personal best record this season was 10.24s done at the championship in the US, last April, but the action in Paris 2024 must have boosted his spirit as he is considered the right individual to become the first Malaysian runner to record a time of 10s (current Olympics men’s 100m record is held by Usain Bolt of Jamaica in 2012 with 9.63s).

Even if he cannot manage to dip under 10s in Paris, Muhammad Azeem can at least renew his national record.

In the case of Shereen, the 25-year-old athlete who is more synonymous with the women’s 400m, has shown an encouraging season when she renewed her national record with a time of 51.79s at the championships in the USA, earlier this month.

Shereen, who continues the legacy of her mother Josephine Mary who is a former national runner, also created a sensation when she won the 400m bronze at the 2022 Asian Games in China and also helped the women's 4x100m quartet bring home the bronze from the Hangzhou Games.

Her ability to excel in sprint events cannot be denied after making history by erasing a 25-year-old national record in the women’s 200m with a record time of 23.33s in the US last year.

In the 100m, which she rarely participates in, Shereen recorded a personal best of 11.87s at the championships in the US last April, which is 0.37s behind G. Shanti's old national record while the qualification time to Paris 2024 for women's 100m is 11.07s.

After failing to clock 50.95s which is the Paris 2024 qualification mark for the women's 400m, Shereen now has to rely on the latest update in world rankings which is seen as quite difficult and thus she has to hope for MAF consideration.

If Shereen is selected for Paris 2024, she will most definitely compete in the women’s 100m (Olympics women’s 100m record is 10.61s by Elaine-Thompson-Herah in 2021) which means she has to change her training routine now to focus more on the sprint, besides having to repay the trust of the national selectors by at least erasing the national record.

The MAF is expected to submit the names of their chosen single athlete to the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) by the beginning of July at the latest.

For the record, former sprint champion Watson Nyambek was the last national male athlete to compete in the 100m at the Olympic Games at the 2000 Sydney edition while Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli and Azreen Nabila Alias ​​competed in the women’s category respectively at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 editions.

The Paris Olympics are scheduled to take place from July 26 to Aug 11.




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