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Minnows aim to grab limelight in Asian Games

November 21, 2006

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SINGAPORE, Nov 20: Asian powerhouses like China, Japan and South Korea might grab all the Asiad gold medal attention but the region's sporting minnows plan to hog at least some of the limelight.

While some nations might whinge about winning dozens of medals, others will be glad of just one -- and a bronze at that.

A host of the countries competing in the Qatari capital Doha in December have never before been on the Asiad podium. For a myriad of reasons -- political, geographical, financial -- their sporting prowess has never matured.

Tiny Brunei might be oil rich but when it comes to producing athletes, it is lacking big time.

But it is not for want of trying and the small monarchy on the island of Borneo scored a major breakthorugh at the Busan Games in 2002 when it won its first ever medal - a bronze in karate.

It plans to emulate that feat in Qatar with their hero from four years ago Tong Kit Siong back again to try and go one better in the 75kg category.

Brunei also boasts HJ Johari and Sim Chung Hlang who both won karate silver in the last Southeast Asian Games, buoying their hopes of their best Games ever.

Bhutan is bigger than Brunei but remains one of the most secluded countries in the world, tucked between Asian heavyweights China and India.

Their national sport is archery -- competitions are held regulary in villages throughout the monarchy -- and they could be medal contenders this year after a credible fourth place finish at Busan.

The Maldives, like Brunei, has a population of less than 400,000 and has similarly lacked medals. Being a series of tropical islands it is not surprising that their best hope this year is in swimming.

Aminath Hussein and Hassan Ashraf competed at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne earlier this year and plan to more than just make up the numbers.

Cambodia may not be a minnow in population terms, but it remains that way in the sporting arena.

Its troubled history meant that sport was put on hold for most of the 1970s and 1980s, before it took part in its first Asian Games at Hiroshima 1994.

Boxing is its forte with Min Saiheng (welterweight) and Ath Samreth (middleweight) considered outside medal chances.

Like Cambodia, the Gulf Arab country of Oman failed to win any medals in Busan.

Its best hopes in Doha lie with its marksmen after Saleem Al Nasri finished just outside the top 20 in the double trap at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The Omani hockey team will also fancy some success.

Timor-Leste became the first new nation of the 21st century when it declared independence from Indonesia in 2002, just in time to send a team to Busan. Doha will be its second Asian Games.

It will again enter a handful of atheltes in sports like boxing, weightlifting, taekwondo and athletics with lightweight boxer Victor Ramos their star pick -- already a veteran of two Olympic Games and one Asian Games.

Then there is war-ravaged Iraq which will send a team to the Asian Games for the first time this year.

Against the odds, it competed in the West Asian Games in Doha last year and it won 10 medals, including two golds. Men's 400m hurdler Alaa Motar and women's 100m sprinter Alaa Jassim are their top hopes.—AFP