ARTISTIC gymnast Rachel Yeoh Li Wen, 20, made one of the most amazing comebacks in the 19th Sukma (Malaysia Games) on a day when Penang captured four gold, six silver and eight bronze medals.
She won the women’s balance beam gold while the other three came from another artistic gymnast Teoh Chuen Loong, 18, the men’s sepak takraw trio and the women’s petanque team.
However, Penang have now dropped to fifth place overall from third spot with a haul of 27 golds, 23 silvers and 23 bronzes. They are behind Federal Territories (37-26-38), Terengganu (32-30-42), Selangor (30-48-50) and Sarawak (29-23-23). All the 13 states, Federal Territories and Brunei are taking part in the Games which ends on Sept 22 (Saturday).
Wheelchair-bound for several months after undergoing two operations for torn ligaments on both her knees, Rachel bounced back so quickly to get herself ready for action.
“I had a very bad fall during the vaulting event when competing in Taiwan last year. I suffered posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury on both knees and I thought that was the end of my dream to be a top gymnast,” Rachel recalled.
“I was very down and the thought of giving up crossed my mind. But my coach, family and friends encouraged me to focus on my recovery. Then, I told myself it was not good just to quit.”
A PCL is one of the strongest ligaments located in the back of the knee, connecting the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). An injury to PCL usually requires a powerful force, for example when a bent knee hits a dashboard in a car accident or a football player falling on a knee that is bent.
Rachel underwent a PCL reconstruction, with her left knee undergoing the surgeon’s knife in October last year, and then the right knee in February this year.
Remarkably, she recovered and today, she stands 10 feet tall after performing with confidence to topscore in the balance beam with 11.450 points, ahead of fellow Penangite Zarith Imaan Khalid (11.250) and Damya Dameerah Suhaimi (11.100).
Apart from the balance beam victory, Rachel also bagged a silver in the uneven bar. While she looks like she is 15 or 16 years old, the 20-year-old student from Universiti Putra Malaysia said the 2018 Sukma in Perak is her sixth Sukma appearance. She started competing in the biennial Sukma as a 10-year-old.
In the 2016 Sukma in Sarawak, she won a gold in the uneven bar and a bronze medal in the individual all-round.
Chuen Loong upset compatriot and individual all-round winner Jeremiah Loo Phay Xing, 21, by scoring 12.975 points. Jeremiah, the 2017 SEA Games pommel horse champion, chalked 12.950 after an unexpected fall while Benjamin Cheong Kok Kong of Selangor came third with 12.850.
“Today, I did everything right. And this gold medal in a way came as a shock to me because Jeremiah had a fall,” said Chuen Loong, whose younger brother Chuen Feng, 16, finished second in the high bar and third in the parallel bar.
All three – Jeremiah, Chuen Loong and Chuen Feng – are national athletes training under local and foreign coaches in Bukit Jalil.
Penang Gymnastics Association president Datuk Tan Gin Soon said they had targeted two goals for the Sukma in Perak.
“This is the best we’ve managed to achieve so far. We won a total of four gold, five silver and four bronze medals here. I’m happy that we’ve trained a couple of young gymnasts who are coming up. So, hopefully in years to come, we can maintain our standard.”
Penang artistic gymnastics team manager Lily Wong Chiew Lee said it was the gymnasts’ determination, will power and teamwork that made Penang proud.
“They have been training really hard and intensively for 2018 Sukma, and were thus able to give inspiring performances. We will strive even harder for the next Sukma in Johor,” said Wong, who also thanked their parents, coaches, Penang State Sports Council officials, including director Frederick Tan, and the state government for giving her association the support.
The Penang sepak takraw trio, comprising Said Ezwan Said De, Muhamad Aiman Haikal Muhamad Naim and Amir Aizat Roshanizam, played with good understanding to overwhelm their counterparts from Johor 21-12, 21-10 in the final.
Team manager Jalil Mohd Noor, who is also the head of the department for planning and development at the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP), praised his boys for holding their nerves.
“We’re all very excited with the win. We are the defending champions, but this time, we have a different set of players and yet manage to retain our title,” Jalil said.
The women’s petanque team gave Penang a good start by beating Johor 2-1 in the final. The team members were Nur Ayuni Md Yusri, Nur Fatin Suhaimi, Nur Iffah Mohd Rasyidi, Nur Maisarah Mohd Jamil, Nuramiza Syazana Mohd Nazri, Nurul Hanis Nasir and Siti Asiah Zaini, who was the singles gold medallist the previous day.
In the final, the team won the singles, lost the doubles, and won the deciding triple at 13-9. At the last Sukma in Sarawak two years ago, the Penang women’s team reached the quarter-finals.
Archer M. Khambeswaran lost the gold medal by a whisker to Sabah’s Eugenius Lo Foh Soon at 144-145 in the compound men’s individual final.
In athletics, Penang finally landed a medal in the third day of competition through Hong Xyan in the women’s 800m when she finished third in 2:19.00.
There is good news from the boxing camp with two Penangites – Mohd Asuad Mohd Halim and Mohamad Aswan Che Azmi qualifying for the welther weight (69kg) and middle weight (75kg) finals respectively. The finals will be held on Friday.
Mohd Asuad proved too good for Sarawak’s Christyuden Anak Ripoh, winning 5-0, while Mohamad Aswan also trounced Johor’s Muhammad Haikal Shah Mohamad Bakar 5-0 in the semi-finals today.
Story by K.H. Ong
Pix by Noor Siti Nabilah Noorazis & Nur Afiqah Zainudi and courtesy of Penang State Sports Council