TAWAU: Not giving up before putting on a fight is a principle for Tawau-born runner Nurelfira Umaira Mohd Yusof, or Fira, who created a sensation by winning the gold medal in the 80m girls’ under-14 hurdles event at the WA State Track and Field Championships 2024 in Perth, Australia recently.

Fira, 13, petite and only standing at 151 cm, said that despite seeing opponents taller and larger in size in the competition with the tallest runner at over 180 cm, that was not a reason for her to be intimidated but rather more enthusiastic and confident to bring home the medal.

“I aimed for gold, I trained hard to get gold. When I saw my opponents, I remained confident of winning because I have been training since I was in Year Four. I was confident of winning even though I was the shortest and smallest,“ she said when met by reporters after arriving at Tawau Airport here last night.

The student of Sekolah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih, Tawau, said another challenge she faced was adjusting her running style in a short period upon learning that there was a difference in the number of hurdles used in the 80m hurdles event.

Nurelfira Umaira said this was because the usual practice in Malaysia for the event used eight hurdles, but in Australia, nine hurdles were used, making the distance between each hurdle closer.

“It’s a bit difficult from eight hurdles to nine hurdles, so before the final started, I warmed up again and tried the hurdles, thankfully I succeeded with a time of 13.10 seconds for gold,“ she said, adding that the 80m hurdles is her pet event and her personal best is 11.98s.

The lass, who also won the silver medal in the girls’ under-14 200m hurdles in the same championship, will resume training in preparation for the Little Athletics Championships to be held in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur in July.

Nurelfira Umaira said her teacher, Karim Batjo, was the one who sparked her interest in participating in hurdles events when she was in Year Four when the teacher called her to train under him.

“From there, until now, I have been training diligently. My goal is to represent Malaysia in bigger championships like the SEA Games,“ she said, citing Malaysia’s runner at the previous SEA Games, 15-year-old Farah Syakira Azifsafarin, as her inspiration.

Meanwhile, Karim described Nurelfira Umaira as small but fiery and that despite her small physical stature, she is brave and calm besides being able to adapt easily to changes, as evidenced when she learned that the number of hurdles for the 80m hurdles in Australia was different from Malaysia.

“Thirty minutes before the heats started, we had to change the strategy for her to run. Alhamdulillah, she is the type who is calm, she could follow the rhythm of how to run fast with nine hurdles, I also told her that since we’re here (Australia), we must bring back a medal,“ he said.

He said Nurelfira Umaira will continue training under him along with Head Coach Dzulfikar Awang Anak and target the athlete to participate in the Malaysia Games within three or four years and then to higher-level championships.

“Previously, Fira broke the 80m hurdles record of the Sabah School Sports Council (MSS) meet in Keningau with 12.41 seconds as well as setting the best record in the Malaysian School Sports Council (MSSM) (meet) for the same event,“ he said, hoping that the young athlete will always stay focused and sacrifice for greater success.

Karim also said that there were many sports talents identified at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pasir Putih but constraints on sports equipment made it difficult for more effective training sessions.

“We lack equipment because our children who train every day are too many, up to 60 people, the equipment we use is only one set so the rotation of using those items is very limited,“ he said.

He will submit a list of 22 sports equipment that is urgently needed to the school authorities and hopes that there will be parties willing to contribute the equipment to develop potential young athletes in Tawau. -Bernama

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