KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Malaysia will bank on teenagers Muhammad Azeem Fahmi and Muhammad Arsyad Md Saat to bag the coveted title of sprint king for a third consecutive time in the Hanoi SEA Games in Vietnam next month.

With national sprint ace Russel Alexander Nasir Taib ruled out with an injury, the 18-year-old Muhammad Azeem, who is dubbed the Malaysian Usain Bolt, has been called up as a replacement for the 31st edition of the SEA Games from May 12-23.

National athletics head coach Mohd Manshahar Abdul Jalil confirmed today that Muhammad Azeem will join Muhammad Arsyad, 19, in the blue riband event.

Russel Alexander, who holds the national men’s 200-metre (m) record of 20.77 seconds (s) and a personal best of 10.42s (2019) in the 100m, was previously chosen to run in the Hanoi Games based on his best achievement this year, namely 10.50s in January in Brisbane, Australia.

Mohd Manshahar said he was informed via email recently that Russel Alexander, who is based in Australia, had suffered “soft tissue” injuries.

The coach, however, added that he has yet to get a detailed report of the sprinter’s injury.

Russel Alexander had been listed with Muhammad Arsyad to run in the 100m and with Jonathan Nyepa in the 200m.

The injury to Russel Alexandar, however, has seen the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) unanimously decide on replacing him with Muhammad Azeem in the 100m and Muhammad Arsyad in the 200m.

“These selections are done based on current performance, namely the athletes with personal bests that are closest to the SEA Games qualifying marks (set at the Kuala Lumpur Allcomers Championships). So, that’s why Muhammad Azeem, who clocked 10.37s in the 100m on March 26, and Muhammad Arsyad, who clocked 21.25s (in the 200m) the next day, have been picked.

“Although we are sending young athletes, their achievements cannot be denied. For the 100m dash, the competition will be very close, so it’s an open affair and a lot of will hinge on their form on competition day,” he said when contacted.

Based on current performance, Indonesian Lalu Muhammad Zohri (10.03s) and Thailand’s Puripol Boonson (10.19s) are viewed as the favourites to be crowned Southeast Asia sprint king this time.

Malaysia have won the blue riband event in the last two editions of the SEA Games through Khairul Hafiz Jantan (10.38s) in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 and Muhammad Haiqal Hanafi (10.35s) in the Philippines in 2019.

For the men’s 4x100m, meanwhile, Mohd Manshahar said five sprinters – Muhammad Azeem, Muhammad Arsyad, Jonathan, Muhammad Haiqal Hanafi dan Muhammad Zulfiqar Ismail – are in the running to form the best quartet.

“The MAF are in the process of submitting the forms for the name changes to the organisers through the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM). Usually, there should not be a problem in changing runners if our application is supported with valid medical reports. Anyway, we still have to wait for an official announcement,” added Mohd Manshahar.

Meanwhile, he expressed confidence that the national track and field squad can achieve Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu’s target of bagging more than five gold medals at the Hanoi Games.

“We feel that we are capable of winning five gold medals based on our athletes’ current performance and compared to the other competing nations… anything extra will be a bonus. With 32 athletes competing in 29 out of the 47 events contested, I feel that it (the target) is reasonable,” he explained. — Bernama