Monday, December 22, 2008

My Bests of 2008

The time is right to look back at 2008 and state what I thought was the best and worst in Malaysian sport this year.
Here are my choices


Nicol David (squash)
- Surely you can't beat ranking number 1 in the world, being crowned world champion and going through a whole season unbeaten. There may be thoughts of her dropping a notch after reaching these heights, but so long as she delivered this year, she's my number 1.


Azizulhasni Awang (cycling)- He's done so much. So much in such a short time that people forget that the Pocket Rocket is just 20-years old. Double Asian champion in keirin and 200m sprint, after repeating the keirin gold he won last year. Qualified for the Olympics four years ahead of schedule and gave Chris Hoy one hell of a fight in the sprint quarters. Already ranked world number 1 in the keirin.


Le Tua Cycling Team (cycling)
- You may think that I'm biased towards cycling, but think again. Look at how much this team had in terms of budget. Less than RM80,000 to run the whole year's campaign. But they delivered far better results than the big bidget national team and MCF Cycling team. They won the points classification through Anuar Manan and overall title through Tonton Susanto in the Jelajah Malaysia. Anuar repeated that in the Tour de East Java. Almost won a stage in Le Tour de Langkawi and regained for us the self respect, the admiration of European teams and riders. They inspired the whole cycling fraternity in the country. Who says we suck at team sports!!


FA of Malaysia
- Or rather flop of the century. The FAM is Malaysian football, but they're an embarassment. Despite countless revamps, restructuring, a whole lot of money, everything, the national body fails to realise the importance of full focus on development of PLAYERS. They keep tinkering, are too bogged down by petty issues, the design of the league, they're unable to even really control their affiliates, they allow the politics of every issue reign above reason and advancement, the FAM is stuck in the 1970s. Worst of all, the FAM can't even produce a half decent national team that can garner some pride for us all. That is because they are incapable of producing the decent players we require. All they do is meet and talk, when work should be done on the ground, grinding into every district, every small club, everybody with interest in football, that we can do this. Instead they remain in the mighty Wisma FAM and battle plot after plot of stories and issues that bore us to the bone, while Thailand and Singapore are beginning to look good to launch serious attacks on World Cup qualification.. I can go on and on, but for what.

Stay tuned. Coming next: The best of Malaysian cycling, the best of Malaysian motorsport, the World's Best of 2008.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nous sommes champion du monde!!

That says it all. 10 men against South American champs Liga de Quito. Rooney scores a beauty. Achieved what the Liverpoodles failed to do in 2005. More coming by May, I suppose.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Little bro won something...again

Well you can say sport runs in the family. Mummy and Daddy played hockey. I tried to be serious in whatever I played, but ended up trying to beat everybody at everything, then gave up. The little kid who came last in the family turned out to be a reasonably good rugby player.
And on Sunday, my little brother Anis Mirza had another winner's medal to boast, this time from the Alumni Cup which his team Warriors II won. Congrats to Adik. Love you and proud of you.

Here's a special pic for Rizal Hashim. How he wishes the brothers were together.

Enter the Malaysian GC attack...

So many arguments ago, so many disappointments ago, we wondered. But we still struggle to figure out when a serious GC attack by any Malaysian will be mounted in Le Tour de Langkawi.
Thus, at this moment when Le Tour de Langkawi fever starts gripping the cycling fraternity, those questions come back to haunt us.
We know the road sprinters are building up well, with Anuar Manan, Ahmad Haidar Anuawar, Nor Rizuan Zainal, even Akmal Amrun looking good to stick it in at the front of bunch sprints again, leaving only that elusive victory to chase. But when does a Malaysian begin to dream of landing the Asian riders' classification, let alone the yellow jersey for general classification (GC).
The groundwork has been laid. At least as far as Le Tua Cycling Team is concerned. And it is up to that guy on the right in the picture above to make it work.
Personally, I've seen Ng Yong Li and buddy on the left Loh Sea Keong, slowly build themselves into riders on the verge of being able to mount a serious threat to the overall contenders.
I say on the verge, because neither of them have done it themselves, both domestiques with foreign teams since they started their serious careers. Both are just 22, will be 23 next year.
Yong Li, more than Ah Keong, is a pure climber. He's proved that he is the best Malaysian for that job by a mile in the past two editions of LTdL. But the best Malaysian thus far, had to work the Vitoria-ASC team up Genting in 2007, then this year had to lead the charge for Shinichi Fukushima in the Meitan Hompo-GDR team up Fraser's Hill as they finished off whatever was left of the Seoul City team that battles Meitan Hompo for the Asian riders' classification.
Enter Jeremy Yates, the Kiwi who's just come to an agreement, a month after Yong Li, to ride for Le Tua next year. He finished fourth, riding for the New Zealand national team in this year's LTdL, but it seems he has agreed to do everything for Yong Li this time around. So now add Jelajah Malaysia 2008 winner Tonton Susanto to that, and you probably will have the three best non-European, non-Colombian climbers in the race on Feb 9-16.
Le Tua's sprint train will work for Sayuti Zahit, with Razif Salleh and another Indonesian Samai Amari pulling him to the front for sprints. But this is Yong Li's story to write.
I'm not saying it is time to expect Yong Li to deliver. But he knows it is up to him to pull his socks up and now assume a leadership role in a team that has brought so much glory to Malaysian cycling in the past two years.
And I can't say he's not learned enough. He's been with the Wurth-Liberty Seguros team in Spain for two years (2005-2006), then created history by becoming Malaysia's first pro when he signed with Portuguese team Vitoria-ASC in 2007, then rode in France with Jap outfit Meitan Hompo-GDR this year.
If there's reason to suspect anything lacking in the skinny young bugger's repertoire, it is the experience of having a team work for him to go for victory instead of him being part of the 'workforce'.
But having done so much without much results, Yong Li should be hungry. He should be the one wanting to go and be the reason why the team gets a fat paycheck at the end of the race. That, Yong Li should understand himself.
In a world of lesser icons, Yong Li is Malaysia's biggest name in the mountain stages. He's no Indurain, no Armstrong, nothing like his former teammate Alberto Contador. But 2009 must be the year when Ng Yong Li begins the process of getting there.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

World Number 1!!!!!

A buddy Isma, sent me a short email alerting me of the new UCI world rankings released on Monday. It showed that little kid you see in the picture as world number one in the keirin.
Azizulhasni Awang swiftly recieved a phone call from me over there in Melbourne, but I was more concerned about his blog posting HERE.
He'd stated he was disappointed about something, some people or how things are going back home in Malaysia. "Saja je bang. Tengah boring, takde ape nak buat, try tulis sajak bahasa Inggeris la," he said. Guess he must have been disturbed by something. He'll get over it.
More importantly, the UCI rankings as produced HERE on Monday, showed just where the soon-to-be 21-year old stands in world cycling at this moment.
I wrote THIS that appeared in the NST today. True, he's world number one, but if you'd expected this Malaysian to slump into the attitude so many of our athletes past and present have, you'd be so wrong.
Azizul has his eye on becoming world champion, he wants that UCI World Cup leader's jersey off the back of Frenchman Francois Pervis. He wants to stay at the top.
You don't have to believe what I write. I know this kid well enough. Just watch. It will happen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Leah Lynn Fortune's perfect 10

Women usually need to make a statement. They have to. And you better listen or watch, just pay attention. They usually succeed where men least expect them to. They cause a stir, excitement, a whole lot of everything when they decide to.
I guess Leah Lynn Fortune of Brazil's Under-20 World Cup team, has done more than that. She's brought a dimension to football that exceeds what Pele, Cruijff, Maradona, Platini, Eusebio, Beckham, Giggs, Raul, even the human launchpad Rory Delap, ever managed. Just look at her!!!
Now girls, realise that football offers you a shot at life after your rhythmic gymnastics career ends at 18, 19 or 20... Keep your options open. That's what Leah did. Just stick to the ball routine!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rest in peace Datuk Ho Koh Chye...

Pic from

I'd been off duty Wednesday, then spent all of daylight yesterday working on my NPC projects and spent a good chunk of the day at the National Motorsport Forum. I'd not had time to look at any news.

I walked into the office to deliver my takes on the forum unknowingly. Nobody had informed me of this. My boss Vijesh then told me I need not do too many stories because a page of our paper would be dedicated to Datuk Ho Koh Chye. "What?!" I asked.

"Ho Koh Chye died yesterday," Vijesh told me. "Don't tell me you didn't know."

I honestly didn't. But I could feel my heart slowly crumbling to pieces inside me as I swiftly got down to work. This was unthinkable. One of the greatest men, greatest sportsmen I'd ever known had died. And he was a good friend of mine. A good friend of everybody he knew.

He was, in my earlier years as a sportswriter, a New Straits Times columnist and I even remember that I had the honour of 'cleaning up' one of his final Horoscope pieces, but I must say his English was immaculate, unlike mine, so it was an easy job of just correcting house style and so on.

I have the utmost respect for the man.

Unlike those current instant Datuks, we all rushed to congratulate him upon finding out he'd finally received the honour on Oct 24, 2003. The former national hockey team captain truly deserved every letter in his Datukship. In fact, for his untiring service to Malaysian sport, he deserves more.

My recent encounters with the great man were mostly at the Olympic Council of Malaysia or at the connecting Olympic coffee house during his tenure as chef-de-mission for the Olympic contingent.

"Arnaz, come let's sit over there. You've got to get me up to date with cycling," I remember that day about a month prior to the Beijing Olympics very clearly. It was four teh tariks later that the chat ended. But talking sport to the Datuk was always a pleasure. I believe all those chats I'd had with him along the years, had contributed to making me even a little bit wiser about what I do.

He did share a lot of worries about where our hockey was heading. But Datuk was always the gentleman. Unlike me, he had a more polished and subtle, but effective way of criticising, and not a tad less passionate.

"You mustn't stop thinking critically. If you see something wrong, write. Otherwise nobody will know. Just do your job," were some of the Datuk's words that stick in my mind. He sounded like a boss, but meant it in friendship. I regret that I sometimes do forget those words.

Of course, we sort of shared an alliance with NST, and the Datuk always liked to see me come up with highly critical stories, especially in those early years after I was first introduced to him by former boss Lazarus Rokk. He'd always let me know what he thought of issues I raised through my writing whenever we met in the field.

I can't write enough to tell you about this great life that has left us after just 66 years in this world. Datuk passed away in the midst of recovery from a prostate operation on Wednesday.

I'll be there to say my goodbyes to him at the St. Iganatius Church in Kelana Jaya in the morning. Tears flow down my cheek as I end this piece. We've all lost a great man. A really great man.

Below, one of Datuk Ho Koh Chye's final columns that appeared in the NST. Taken from NSTP archives.

Publication :
Edition :
Date :
Page Number :
Headline :
Players now have Lissek, let's see if they can perform
Byline :
By Ho Koh Chye
Column Name :

OBSERVERS are having a difficult time trying to make sense of
contradicting signals emerging from the Paul Lissek saga.
Ask any member of the hockey fraternity about what is going on and the
response is a shrug of the shoulders.
There is public uncertainty too."How can lah? One moment Lissek is out
and next moment he's in again. A typical knee-jerk reaction. Chinese say
it's like children playing with sand," commented a stranger who walked up
to me while I was having a `chapati' at Tiger Jit's.
In the last couple of weeks, the rumour mill had churned out many
interesting stories. One was that some quarters in the MHF felt Lissek was
not the magician he was made out to be and told him so during a discussion
halfway through the Asia Cup. Apparently it was the spark that set off the
chain reaction.
Another was that MHF was hard-pressed to find a replacement for Lissek
when he was re-assigned to do development work. They were unwilling, it
seems, to make a decision on a number of available contenders, so they
appointed Yahya Atan as the interim coach pending a decision of an
interview Board. But many wondered how serious the MHF was in addressing
such an urgent issue when the selection of Lissek's successor was not even
The most disturbing rumour had to do with the possible pull-out of
players if Lissek was not reinstated.
Some critics believe that it is not impossible but difficult for local
coaches to step into Lissek's shoes at this stage of the team's
preparation. Lack of experience, time and the fear of failing to help the
team qualify, have been listed as constraints by the local coaches.
Yahya turned down the offer because he was afraid of being rejected by
the interview Board one month into the job. Who can blame him? How can he
do a good job with the Sword of Damocles hanging over him? The point is,
how can you build confidence in local coaches when they are treated in
this manner?
The players pleaded for a hearing. They want to make it to the Athens
Olympics and believe that the man who can help them get there is Lissek.
What's wrong with that?
Players like to work with coaches who can make winners out of them.
The Manchester United players stick it out with Alex Ferguson not
because he is a racehorse owner or a nice guy.
MHF rejected their plea and they went to the NSC. The act was
misconstrued as defiance.
Speaking up should never be mistaken as defiance or disloyalty. It is
having the courage to stand up and be counted. Give them a hearing and
then decide what is best for the game, like the England FA did in the Rio
Ferdinand case. We should stop treating athletes like kids.
Lissek's critics are not entirely wrong either. The statistics have not
been too convincing. In a nutshell, they portray him as being too
cautious, negative and unimaginative in his approach to the game.
It is a well accepted fact that coaches are sacked when results do not
go their way.
Lissek is no exception. I am sure he took on the job fully realising
that criticism, condemnation and removal would be his constant companions.
Many reasons are attributed to the failure of a coach. Among them are a
lack of tactical sense, insufficient on-the-job experience, poor
management and motivational skills, and a lack of quality players.
Lissek's players say that he is a top-class coach who is able to
formulate effective game plans and is good at getting the best out of them
individually and collectively. So the most important people in the
equation think he can take them to the Promised Land. And so be it.
What about the players? It is no use having the best coach and support
in the world when the players can't perform or deliver. Have we over-
exaggerated the quality of our players?
The players wanted Lissek. They've got him. Now let's see whether they
can together rise to the challenge in six months' time.