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US-based Azeem, Shereen steal the show at Asian Games

Shereen Samson Vallabouy advanced to the women’s 400m final after winning Heat 3. (Josephine Mary pic)

HANGZHOU: Two Malaysian US-based runners – Azeem Fahmi and Shereen Samson Vallabouy – made a memorable Asian Games debut when they won their respective first round heats in style under the full moon of the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Hangzhou Olympic Stadium last night.

National sprint king Azeem, 19, powered his way into the men’s 100m semifinals by winning Heat 3 in 10.28s, finishing ahead of 2017 Asian champion Hassan Taftian (10.42s) and Oman’s Ali Anwar Ali al-Balushi (10.47s).

The teenager, who holds the national record holder of 10.09s, was placed ninth overall, with China’s Xie Zhenye (10.07s), Thailand’s Puripol Boonson (10.13s) and Indonesia’s Lalu Zohri (10.22s) taking the top three spots.

Talking to reporters after the race, Azeem said his target tonight was to win Heat 3 and advance to the next level.

“My goal was to win the heat, and 10.27s is still in a good range to qualify for the semis. It was a good race, though this was my first time in six years running at night…Hopefully, tomorrow I can improve my time,” said Azeem.

Former 100m national record holder and 2017 SEA Games champion Khairul Hafiz Jantan also made it to the semifinals after clocking 10.48s to be placed fourth in the Heat 5 – and 19th overall.

Meanwhile, Shereen advanced to the women’s 400m final after winning Heat 3, and she now hopes to end Malaysia’s 17-year medal drought in the Asiad tomorrow.

The 25-year-old debutant clocked 52.89s, about a second slower than her national record of 51.80s, to edge Vietnam’s Hoang Thi Minh Hanh (53.89s) and Pakistan’s Sahib E Asra (55.18s).

The time placed her fifth overall among 18 runners in the first round, with Adekoya Oluwakemi Mujidat (50.53s) and Salwa Eid Naser (52.52s), both of Bahrain, clocking the fastest times.

“Feels great to make the final in my first Asian Games. My goal was to make it to the final and I am glad I did it. Hopefully, can give a medal to Malaysia… the two Bahrain girls are strong,” she said.

However, Umar Osman, who holds the national record of 46.09s, missed out on the men’s 400m final after clocking 46.58s to finish fourth in Heat 3 and 11th overall in the first round.

National woman hammer thrower Grace Wong could only finish 10th out of 11 competitors in the final with a throw of 57.46m.

China made it a 1-2 finish through Wang Zheng (71.53m) and Zhao Jie (69.44m), while South Korean Kim Taehui (64.14m) claimed bronze.