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ARKIB : 24/09/1998

Nurul Huda Abdullah Back In Malaysia After Nine Years

KUALA LUMPUR Sept 23 - Ato Boldon, Jonah Lomu, Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim and a chorus of other world beaters were here. But Nurul Huda Abdullah?

No. It's not the shooting queen Nurul Huda Baharin who overcame a broken arm to win a gold medal in the 16th Commonwealth Games. Instead, it's her namesake who was once the queen of Southeast Asian swimming.

Nine years after making waves in the 1989 SEA Games, the darling of Malaysian sports in the 80s returned to the country, without much fanfare or media attention.

It was a far cry from her glorious days when she ruled the pool for seven years, winning medal after medal in the SEA Games and Asian Games, mobbed by the media, authograph hunters and VIPs.

''I like it (no publicity). I was very young when I started to get media attention... I was only 13 when I went for my first SEA Games in 1983,'' said Nurul who was here to watch the 16th Commonwealth Games.

Nurul said she had to deal with media pressure when she was not mature and that was why she preferred to keep a low profile now and carry on with her life as a normal person.

''I can do what I like... that's why I keep away from Malaysia for such a long time. I am just like any other ordinary person now,'' said Nurul who came here on the invitation of Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Sieh Kok Chi.

After making her debut in the 1983 SEA Games, Nurul shot into the limelight when she won seven gold medals in 1985 in Bangkok followed by two silver and one bronze in the Asian Games in Seoul a year later.

But her eight-gold haul in the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 1989 was her biggest achievement and it was also the last time Malaysians saw her exploits in the pool.

''In fact, I stopped swimming completely after that. I did so much swimming at a very young age and I just needed the break. It doesn't feel like eight years.... maybe not yesterday but feel like last year (the last time she swam),'' she said in an interview here.

Nurul left the country at the age of 10 for an 18-month training stint in Perth.

Unlike other athletes who turn to coaching after their competition days, the grand-daughter of former Singapore President Wee Kim Wee went for higher studies and graduated with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in psychology.

Currently working in a bank in Brisbane, Australia, Nurul said she sometimes missed the sport but did not have much free time to be active again in swimming.

''Coachiing? I never thought about that... maybe one day I will,'' she said.

''I am very busy with my work. I had also lost touch with everyone here, including my former teammates. I just caught up with Jeffrey Ong here,'' she said.

Jeffrey, a former SEA Games gold medallist, is now a television broadcaster.

Nurul said she is delighted to be back in the country and took the opportunity to watch several events in the Games.

''When I was swimming... I only went to the pool and went home after it finished. I never watched hockey or athletics. The atmosphere here is great... It did make me miss all the action,'' she said.

Nurul, who arrived last Thursday, said a lot of people asked her if she would like to be active again but she felt that her time had passed and it's the turn of the new generation.

Nurul said she missed teenage life because of her swimming career but at the same time gained a lot of experience that others did not get.

Nurul said the 1989 SEA Games marked her happiest moments.

''I enjoyed the Games in Kuala Lumpur. The home crowd support really spurred me on. At the same time, there was a lot of pressure but the positive thing was the whole country was behind me,'' she said.

Missing the gold medal in the 1986 Asiad was her biggest disappointment.

''I can't regret now... it's gone,'' she said.

Nurul had competed in almost all the major Games, including the Olympics in 1988, but ironically, the Commonwealth Games was never in her diary because Malaysia boycotted the Games in 1986.

Her retirement in 1989 had left a big vacuum in the Malaysian swimming scene but Nurul is happy that there is a bigger pool of swimmers now, saying that they should train hard for the 2001 SEA Games, especially with the world-class facilities at their disposal.

On the performance of national swimmers who made the A-Final in several events in the Games, Nurul said it was a good achievement and hoped they would get more exposure at international competitions to improve themselves.

Asked when she planned to settle down, Nurul said in jest: ''You don't plan to marry.''

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