Monday, February 25, 2008

Ah Thiam books ticket to world meet

LANGKAWI: Former national cyclist Wong Ah Thiam’s (pic - Tey Eng Tiong) good performance during last Saturday’s Langkawi Ironman Triathlon has earned him a spot at the Ironman World Championships 2008 in Kona, Hawaii, in October.

Although he is eligible for one of the two wild card tickets reserved for hosts Malaysia’s best-placed men and women, Ah Thiam preferred to qualify the hard way.

The 34-year-old mechanic was placed 21st in the overall standings out of more than 600 finishers, thus earning one of the 35 world meet berths allocated to the best finishers in Langkawi.

His 10’03:59 finish was also good enough to clinch third place in the men’s 30-34 age group category.

Mike Schifferle of Ireland (9’31:34) and Germany’s Andre Stuebs (10’00:40) finished ahead of the Malaysian in the category.

A competitor is required to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a full marathon distance of 42.2km in the Ironman competition.

“This is the second time that I have qualified for Kona on merit. My first was in 2006, when I finished 18th overall. But this year’s timing is my personal best at the Langkawi Ironman since I started in 2004,” said Ah Thiam.

“My aim was to dip below 10 hours, but I have no complaints as today’s hot conditions were not ideal to attempt a best timing.”

During his world meet debut in 2006, the Malaysian did his personal best time of 9’57:00 to finish 343rd out of 1,680 of the world’s best triathletes.

However, the Kelantan-born Ah Thiam is not certain of returning to Hawaii yet.

“My main obstacle is getting sponsors. In 2006, Standard Chartered Bank stepped forward to foot my expenses. Since I would be representing Malaysia in Hawaii, I hope someone is willing to sponsor me to compete at the Ironman World Championships again.

“If I am able to produce a good performance there, it would motivate more Malaysians to take up triathlon.

“There were only about 30 local competitors in Langkawi five years ago, but now we have 148.

“With more youngsters coming in, I am training harder as it is getting more difficult to maintain my status as the country’s number one. This is a good sign for triathlon’s development but we still need more high-level competitions in Malaysia,” added the triathlete.

Meanwhile, Dr Fiona Lim’s long reign as the top local female Ironman ended when she could only complete the race in 13’22:51.

The 37-year-old dentist from Sabah, who has competed in four world meets, lost out to Carmen Leong (12’39:09) and Wendy Wong (12’47:07).

The 38-year-old Carmen finished third in the women’s 35-39 age group, with Wendy coming in fourth and Fiona seventh in the same category.

British-born Emma Penver (women’s 30-34 category), who was registered as a Malaysian athlete for the Langkawi race, also finished ahead of Fiona in 12’59:15.

The Langkawi Ironman 2008 men’s competition was won by 2005 world champion Faris Al-Sultan of Germany in 8’34:32, while Australian Belinda Granger triumphed in the women’s section with a 9’29:21 new meet record.

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