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Hafizuddin’s petanque win breaks Malaysian SEA Games drought

June 8, 2015

SINGAPORE (AP) — In his comeback, he was buoyant. Hyper like a fighter, he was high-fiving his coach, skipping across the gravel court and pumping his arm to celebrate the knockout shots.

In victory, Hafizuddin Mat Daud was subdued again, teary. He walked into the stands, where the previously rowdy crowd shed tears of joy with him and hugged him to celebrate his milestone achievement.

After coming back from 5-0 down, Hafizuddin beat Cambodia’s Thong Choeun 13-6 in the men’s singles final to secure Malaysia’s first-ever gold medal in petanque at the Southeast Asian Games.

“Myself, I was down but my coach, my friends ... my people, they all gave me encouragement and confidence,” he said. “I started to think that I could do it, I could do it for Malaysia.

“I was very emotional, because this is the first gold medal for (Malaysia) for the sport of petanque.”

Petanque didn’t get its name because of the sound that is made when the hollow metal balls clank together on a gravel court. A French version of boules, the game developed in the early 1900s and spread across the world wherever France had influence, including Southeast Asia.

While the players are generally measured and very deliberate in their movements and calculations, the distinguishing sound of the petanque being played at a temporary indoor venue at the Padang on Monday was that of a boisterous crowd.

Cambodia had big leads in both the men’s and women’s singles finals that were played simultaneously on adjoining courts, and it appeared the country’s Francophone background would again be the difference.

Apart from the hush that came over the crowd as players weighed up their options of pointing or shooting toward the jack, the Cambodian spectators cheered, laughed and yelled encouragement, and streamed the games to absent friends on their smart phones.

The Malaysian fans, dressed in orange and black tiger-print shirts, replied with a coordinated comeback, synchronizing claps and war cries. When Thong twice went too hard trying to shoot at the final end, and then pulled up short of the jack, the Malaysians burst into a spontaneous victory song.

Hafizuddin lost his opening game in the preliminaries 13-5 to Phoudthala Keokannika of Laos, and then won his next seven games to secure a place in the playoffs. He easily beat Phoudthala in the semifinals and, after conceding a big early lead to Thong, dominated the latter stage of the final.

In the women’s gold medal match, Fueangsanit Nantawan was trailing 7-0 before coming back to beat Cambodia’s Un Sreya 13-8 and give Thailand another title.

Mohamad Noor Abdul Rahim, the Olympic Council of Malaysia deputy president, praised the 22-year-old Hafizuddin, who has been playing petanque for eight years and had previously won bronze in the SEA Games, as well as his coach Syed Akil, a former national team player.

“It’s a first. A day of celebration. It was a very good comeback. Calm,” Mohamad Noor said. Syed “played a big role.”

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