KUALA LUMPUR: Mariana Mohamad (pic) always wanted to represent the country in a multi-sport carnival but has never got the chance to do so until now.
Duathlon is in the SEA Games programme for the first time and the full-time housewife was determined not to miss the boat to Pattaya and she has been training diligently.
Mariana held her own against a strong international field with only world champion Erika Csomor of Hungary, world number two Michelle Parsons of Britain and world number six Reka Brassay, also from Hungary, beating her to the finish line.
Mariana clocked 3'23:51 and managed to shave 14 minutes off her finishing time last year in the 11km run-64km cycling-10km run event.
Besides Mariana, the other Malaysian entry for women's duathlon at the Games is Stephanie Chok Kui Eng. Mariana's younger brother Heidilee will represent Malaysia in the men's competition together with Shahrom Abdullah, who finished seventh in Sunday's race.
The SEA Games race is over a shorter distance of 10km run-40km cycling-5km run and Mariana is determined to stay ahead of her rivals in the region again.
“I had cramps towards the later stages on Sunday but I was determined to finish despite the pain. I'm happy with my finish and I want to go faster,” she said.
“I see Analiza Dysangco of the Philippines as one of my strongest rivals. She is much better in running but if I can stay with her in the first part, I have a good chance because I am a much better cyclist.”
Mariana has always been passionate about endurance sports. She started out as a triathlete in 2004 but switched to duathlon because she was not a good swimmer.
“When I found out that duathlon will be one of the medal sports in the SEA Games early this year, I was determined to get a place in the team,” she said.
“I went for a few competitions to get good results to win selection. I have to make a lot of sacrifices and time adjustments to train and earn my berth in the SEA Games. If I win a medal, it will be worth all the efforts that I have put in.”
The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi said that barring injuries or illness, Mariana and Shahrom could be considered sure bets for a medal.
“They have proven themselves against the best in the world. What's left to be determined is whether it will be gold, silver or bronze,” he said.
“Duathlon is still relatively new in Malaysia but it has a large following among all ages in Singapore while the Philippines are the powerhouses in the region.”