16 Jun Sarawak embark on cycling journey to new frontiers
KUCHING: Nearly two decades ago, the Sarawak State Sports Council (MSNS) invested in a coach from China – Wang Jinlan – to take charge of diving development with the aim of producing top calibre divers. The rest is history.
The crowning success of that project was when Pandelela Rinong Pamg entered the pages of history as Sarawak’s first Olympic medalist at the 2012 London Games.
She was also the first woman and the first athlete in a sport other than badminton to win an Olympic medal for Malaysia.
The MSNS venture to produce “champions of the future” also bore fruit in tenpin bowling, resulting in a singles champion and a member of the champion team on the world stage.
After “uncovering” the path to success in diving and tenpin bowling, Sarawak has now turned to cycling – the next ambitious project to develop world champions.
The recent recruitment of South African-born Canadian coach Leon Schepers – a coach of high pedigree with experience in South Africa, Canada and Australia – is a significant step in that direction.
Schepers was brought in to put in place development for all disciplines in cycling which include road race, mountainbike, downhill, BMX as well as track cycling or races in velodrome.
Sarawak Sports Corporation chief executive officer Dr Ong Kong Swee is determined to realise SSC’s vision and plans to produce international class athletes in targeted sports starting with cycling.
The state wants to have medal contenders not only in Sukma and national championships but at the SEA Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games.
One major difference between diving over 20 years ago and cycling now is the existence of an association in charge of cycling.
In diving then, MSNS was fully in charge and unimpeded by other factors.
Ong has admitted that it may not be plain-sailing for cycling as development in the sport has not been going on smoothly thus far.
For cycling to soar to the heights of excellence seen in diving, all stakeholders – the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Solidarity, MSNS, the cycling association, officials, coaches, parents, athletes, sports scientists, schools and the public – have to work in partnership.
Ong has warned that there must be no infighting within the cycling fraternity.
Schepers was brought in early this year to handle the Sukma BMX team but he is also tasked with setting up a long-term development plan which will be implemented once Sukma XVIII is over.
“We will wait till the Sukma is over and we will unveil an ambitious plan to produce world class athletes in cycling in the different disciplines.
“In other words, we are raising the bar in some of the sports we have selected in Sarawak.
“We will start a long-term programme to turn Sarawak who had never been a force in cycling to be a powerhouse in the sport in years to come.
“Sarawak cycling has been in the backwaters as far as most disciplines like track, BMX or road races are concerned although it is quite strong in mountainbike or downhill where the women are concerned. But we are going to change that.
“At the moment, Sarawak never have a long-term plan to develop cycling but soon things will change with the experienced cycling coach who had produced international cyclists in charge.
“He will be drawing up a blueprint to chart Sarawak programme, building a large base of cyclists and also to focus on talent development.
“Why we chose cycling because for a start at Sukma competitions there are many gold medals at stake,” he explained.
“We have to concentrate on sports with multiple medals which has been our stated strategies to get us ahead in Sukma competitions. So this is one sport that we have to start and build up.
“Also, it is a sport where with the right person in Schepers whom we had head-hunted and brought here to be put in charge.
“We are confident he is the right person and we can do well even though we are never a force in the sport,” said Ong who admitted that there will be challenges ahead.
For example, Ong said that things on the ground has not been smooth for the sport and officials have to put their act together especially at the association level.
Schepers plans to produce a few Commonwealth Games champions and also Olympic-calibre cyclists.
A Long Term Development Plan (LTDP), adhering to UCI rules, will incorporate a coach education plan which he will embark on after Sukma.
A coaching commission needs to be formed to coordinate the work of all qualified coaches. They will be properly licensed to ensure every coach is aligned with Sarawak’s vision for cycling.
MSNS will strive to raise the level of sports management through organising more seminars and workshops as the state venture once more to produce international cycling champions of the future.
Source: The Borneo Post