Wednesday, 10 June 2015

SEA Games 2015: 52 gold medals... and counting

Team Singapore beat 1993 haul of 50 golds; 70-gold mark within reach
By Charmaine Ng And Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2015

FROM the waters off Marina Bay, where Singapore's canoeists have been harvesting gold, to the Singapore Sports Hub, where netballers and swimmers have thrilled crowds with their golden feats, the nation's finest have had their sights on the larger goal.

And at the halfway mark of the 28th SEA Games, the mission to become the most successful Singapore contingent has been accomplished.

At 7.53pm yesterday, when swimmer Quah Zheng Wen touched the wall at the OCBC Aquatic Centre pool to win the men's 400m individual medley and the host's 51st gold medal, it signalled the writing of a new chapter in Singapore sports history. The medal meant that the feats of the Class of 2015 have surpassed the previous best haul of 50 at the 1993 Games, the last time Singapore played host.

"I'm definitely really proud to have the honour of being part of, and making, Singapore's history," said Quah, 18.

And with seven days left, and more golds expected in shooting, bowling, water polo, sailing and swimming, there is a very real chance Team Singapore could hit 70 golds by the time the Games come to a close next Tuesday. As of last night, the tally stands at 52 golds, thanks to the men's 4x100m swimming team.

The speed with which the golds have come even surprised Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

"We were not expecting to get it so early. We thought we might perhaps get it towards the end of the Games," he told reporters on the sidelines of the final day of the canoeing competition yesterday.

He said the athletes have performed "way above expectations" and cited home support as a factor. "The fan support has been tremendous... I think that gives added motivation to our athletes and I hope that will continue through the rest of the Games," he added.

The gold rush began three days before the Games officially opened last Friday, when table tennis players Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye won the women's doubles, the first gold medal of the Games, to lead the medal standings.

The top spot has not been relinquished since, although with Thailand (38 golds) and Vietnam (33 golds) not far behind, the host could be overtaken once the athletics events get into full swing.

With a bumper contingent of 749 athletes, Team Singapore's chef de mission Tan Eng Liang believes the 60-gold mark is very much achievable: "The pressure was that we had our 50th anniversary and the minimum was to hit this target.

"Our ability to go beyond the 50 bodes well for Singapore sport. We hope we can leave a legacy of sports, sports culture and wanting to do your best for Singapore.

"The message was very simple to the whole Singapore team from Day One: Do your level best for yourself, your parents, your club but, most of all, for Singapore. That message should carry on, although we've already achieved this 50-gold medal mark."

PA system fails midway through Majulah Singapura... this was how the crowd reacted at the OCBC Aquatic Centre

By Lee Min Kok and Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

Five times, Majulah Singapura was played loud and proud on the speakers at the OCBC Aquatic Centre as Team Singapore's dominant SEA Games swimmers mounted the podium on Monday (June 8) night.

But at the sixth and final time of asking - during the medal ceremony for the winning 4x200m freestyle relay quartet of Quah Ting Wen, Christie Chue, Amanda Lim and Rachel Tseng - the public address system crackled and died midway through the national anthem.

Cue nervous looks among the four Singapore girls on the podium.

The spectators in the stands, however, barely missed a beat as they rose to the occasion magnificently. Picking up from where the PA system left off, they sang even louder till the end of the national anthem.

Singaporeans keep singing the National Anthem loud & proud after sound system fails!Watch the full video and many more at our Thrills & Spills section on Toggle #OneTeamSG #SEAgames2015 #Singapore
Posted by Toggle on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The heartfelt rendition drew loud applause from the packed arena, with the swimmers even visibly moved, exclaiming "that was awesome!".

Quah even called it the "most memorable moment" of the Games for her so far, adding: "We talk about bringing people together, but that was the best example of sports really uniting people.

The crowd sounded so good, for a while I thought it was planned. It's a really awesome feeling, and it reminds you what you are racing for."

Led by Joseph Schooling, the swimmers bagged six out of seven golds on offer on Monday night, setting five Games records in the process.

Schooling, 19, also broke former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong's 32-year-old record in the 50 metres freestyle.

With Singapore set to dominate the pool and win close to 20 swimming titles, Majulah Singapura is expected to be heard many more times at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. But even if the PA system fails again, one can trust the partisan fans to chip in.

Shanti cuts to the chase
Great start earns bronze, ending 42-year medal drought in 100m
By Chuan Limin, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2015

SHOCK, joy and then gratitude - those emotions washed over Shanti Pereira after she crossed the finish line in the 100m and looked at the National Stadium's broadcast screen yesterday.

The 18-year-old could hardly believe that she had come in third in the blue-riband event, finishing in 11.88sec, behind winner Kayla Richardson of the Philippines and runner-up Tassaporn Wannakit of Thailand, both of whom clocked 11.76.

This is the first time a Singaporean woman has won a medal in the 100m since 1973, when Eng Chiew Guay captured the gold at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games on home soil as well.

Exuberant after ending that 42-year wait, a grinning Shanti said on winning her first SEA Games medal: "I saw that I was quite in front. Then, I saw my race replay. When I saw that I got third, I jumped.

"I looked back and cheered to the crowd because I think they were a major part of my win today."

Shanti, who holds the 100m national record at 11.80, started off in explosive fashion and maintained her powerful run to fend off the other sprinters in a strong field.

She explained: "I'm actually really happy because I don't usually have starts like this.

"I owe it to my coach Margaret Oh. The whole time she was telling me, 'Just focus on your start and the race is yours.'

"And she was right."

With the 100m bronze earned, Shanti is looking forward to her next three events - her pet 200m, 4x100m and 4x400m.

"Winning the bronze is really the icing on the cake for these SEA Games... and a huge confidence boost for the next three days (of competition)," she said.

Her compatriot Calvin Kang, on the other hand, just missed out on bronze as he finished fourth in the men's 100m, just 0.02sec behind Indonesia's Iswandi.

But the 25-year-old turned in a personal-best 10.47sec, improving his previous mark by 0.01sec.

"I didn't even know what position I was after I finished the race. But in terms of the technical run, I was very happy," said Kang, who managed to beat the 2013 Games 100m champion, an off-colour and nervous Jirapong Meenapra of Thailand.

His next target is breaking the 100m national record of 10.37 within the next year.

He is not the only one spurred on to accomplish larger ambitions after the Games.

Soh Rui Yong, the men's marathon champion, will be aiming to become the first Singaporean to qualify for the event at the 2016 Olympics.

In order to do so, he must take good care of his body - which means withdrawing from the Games' 10,000m today, as the physical toll of Sunday's marathon has made it unwise for him to compete.

"It's very possible that I would risk injury," he said. "You should see me climb the stairs right now, I look like I'm 80.

"Honestly, I want to run the 10km race because it's in the National Stadium.

"Unfortunately, it is coming almost a month too soon for me.

"If I'm not in shape to run my best, I don't race." - #SEAGames2015: In show of sportsmanship, Singapore marathon runner Ashley Liew waited for his competitors to catch up in Sunday's race after they took the wrong path. (via TODAY Sports)
Posted by TODAY on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Schooling adds to joy of 6
He smashes S'pore's oldest swim record as swimmers bag six golds
By Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

HE IS conquering all and sundry. Not just his peers but also those who have gone before him.

Last night, one of the biggest names to "fall" to the talent of Joseph Schooling was Singapore legend Ang Peng Siong.

The teenager blitzed the oldest swimming national record - Ang's 22.69sec, 50m freestyle mark set in August 1982 - at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on day three of the SEA Games.

Schooling clocked 22.47sec in the final en route to the gold.

But even as a nation, those on social media and others lucky enough to witness history in person, raved about Singapore sport's newest poster boy, Schooling was replaying what went wrong with his swim.

Just moments after his record-breaking feat, the butterfly specialist was deep in conversation with national coach Sergio Lopez, discussing how he could have gone faster.

It goes with the territory of being in a sport where a hundredth of a second separates winning from losing, euphoria from misery.

Asked if he had expected to break Ang's record, the 19-year-old said: "Definitely. I wasn't feeling that good before the race. I had a terrible dive but I'm happy to have gotten my hand on the wall (in record time)."

Lopez, too, believed that the writing was on the wall for the record. He said: "I thought he could go 22.1 or 22.2.

"He told me he dived too deep and it kind of put him off a bit.

"But he got a gold and a national record. As a coach, what more can you ask for?"

Ang, a guest commentator at the meet, said Eddie Reese, Schooling's coach at the University of Texas, had told him on Sunday that his mark would fall.

Ang, 52, said: "He had a really good swim in the 100m and 200m free on Sunday so he is one of the most deserving swimmers to break the record.

"Can he go faster? I did my world-best time when I was 19.

"He's 19 too. This is only the beginning."

Besides his freestyle feats, Schooling also bagged his fourth gold of the meet in the 200m fly, where he set a new Games and national record of 1min 55.73sec.

It is the seventh-fastest time in the world this year and an Olympic "A" time, which earns him an automatic berth (subject to approval from the Singapore National Olympic Council) for next year's Rio Games.

Schooling was not the only one rejoicing last night.

Quah Ting Wen, a five-time winner at the 2009 edition, also had a night to remember with two golds.

She clocked a Games record of 55.93sec to win the 100m free - her first individual title since 2009.

She then anchored the 4x200m freestyle relay team of Christie Chue, Rachel Tseng and Amanda Lim to beat Thailand. Second at the plunge, she caught up to help Singapore win in 8:12.95.

Thailand were second in 8:13.43 while Indonesia finished third in 8:30.97.

Said Ting Wen: "I was nervous before the 100m free but I let my nervous energy just take me out on the first 50m.

"I tried to hold on and I'm glad it worked. The home crowd helped because I know I'm swimming for something bigger than myself."

Singapore finished as the biggest winners on the night, claiming six of the seven golds on offer.

Ting Wen's brother, Zheng Wen, kept up his good form, adding a gold in the 200m backstroke with a Games and national record of 2:00.55. He also had a silver in the 200m fly as he clocked an Olympic "A" time of 1:56.79 behind team-mate Schooling.

The last gold came from sprint specialist Tao Li, who won the 50m back in a Games record of 28.9.

The hosts' best night so far came at the expense of Vietnamese sensation Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who was third in the 50m back and second in the 100m free.

But, really, the night was about one man.

Four races, four meet and national records, and four golds later, Schooling is proving he is head and shoulders above his regional peers as he stays on course for perfection in his nine events.

Schooling, who turns 20 next Saturday, said: "I'm on track.

"After the 200m fly, everything gets a lot easier.

"I'm going to have some fun tomorrow."

As the Games continues, some of our TeamSG athletes stood united with the nation as #OneTeamSG and paid their respects...
Posted by Team Singapore on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Joy and relief in Singapore camp as teams claim golds
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

HER nickname "Le Le" translates into happiness, but table tennis player Feng Tianwei had cut a downcast figure at the SEA Games for the past few days.

The three-time Olympic medallist, shocked early on in the singles event, struggled to find form and confidence.

The world No. 4's joyful demeanour finally returned yesterday, after the women's team laboured to a 3-2 win over Thailand to take the title, giving Feng her only gold of these Games.

The men's team also beat Vietnam 3-1 in a final that ended close to midnight, making it a total of six golds from seven events for the table tennis players.

Perhaps in scheduling the men's team final to take place about 11/2 hours after the start of the women's final, tournament organisers thought a match-up between Thailand and Singapore, a side that included Feng and No. 13 Yu Mengyu, would be straightforward.

But the match, watched by President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, lasted more than three hours.

Singapore's paddlers had to claw their way out of trouble, coming back from 1-2 down in the best-of-five tie. Yu Mengyu, playing the first singles, was beaten 7-11, 11-8, 10-12, 9-11 by Nanthana Komwong.

Feng twice levelled the score for Singapore, first a 13-11, 12-10, 7-11, 11-6 win over Tamolwan Khetkhuan and then a comprehensive 12-10, 11-8, 11-1 victory over Komwong in the fourth singles.

Isabelle Li stretched Orawan Paranang to a decider, but lost 11-7, 9-11, 5-11, 11-8, 7-11.

Yu, buoyed by the rapturous cheers of more than 4,000 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, anchored the team to gold with a 10-12, 11-2, 15-13, 11-5 win over Khetkhuan.

"The loss in the singles was a big blow to me," Feng, who partnered Yu to a silver in the women's doubles, said yesterday.

"What happened in the singles cast a dark cloud over the team. We were all quite low in spirits.

"Win or lose, every match is a precious experience for all of us. To be able to make a comeback and win today, it's a complicated feeling."

While national women's coach Jing Junhong had expected added pressure on her charges at home, the former national paddler said the Games has been much tougher than what she had imagined.

Still, she lauded team captain Feng for bouncing back after her singles disappointment.

"Every player will lose at some point, but the difference between an average and a great athlete is how fast she can recover from a setback," she told The Straits Times. "In that, Tianwei has bounced back really well to lead the team to victory."

Gao Ning and Co had a smoother ride in their final. While they also began by dropping the first tie - Li Hu was beaten 7-11, 4-11, 11-6, 10-12 by Tran Tuan Quynh - Gao and Clarence Chew won their matches.

Gao beat Nguyen Anh Tu 11-9, 11-4, 11-8 and Tuan Quynh 11-5, 11-6, 6-11, 11-9. Chew trounced Dinh Quang Linh 11-7, 11-4, 11-7.

I've been going round all the SEA GAMES 2015 competition venues and meeting our #TeamNila volunteers. Many have taken...
Posted by Lawrence Wong on Monday, June 8, 2015

Wushu's class of '93 almost matched
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

TILL now, the local wushu fraternity still talk fondly of the Class of 1993.

Then, Singapore's exponents lit up the SEA Games with seven golds, igniting a wave of popularity in the sport which eventually waned in the 2000s.

Over the past three days of the 2015 Games, however, wushu has propelled itself back into the spotlight, as the Republic's athletes thrilled the crowd at the Singapore Expo Hall 2 with a haul of six golds, three silvers and three bronzes.

It is a huge improvement from the past few Games editions, which provided only a gold medal each, as wushu struggled to replicate its achievements in the 1990s.

But, yesterday, team captain Lee Tze Yuan continued the gold rush of the past two days, with a 9.71 score to top the men's optional taijiquan event.

In the evening, the trio of Fung Jin Jie, Tan Xiang Tian and Tay Wei Sheng added gloss to the tally with their triumph in the barehand duilian event.

Lee said: "I am very proud of the team, we have become a tightly-bonded team and grown a lot together.

"I am a bit disappointed to have come so close to matching the seven-gold achievement but the Class of 1993 were a legendary batch.

"So to come even close to matching them is a very big step for us."

He also lauded his team-mates' sacrifices, with some members even spending last Christmas and Chinese New Year away from their loved ones because they were training in China.

Lee added: "We stand up for the moment the National Anthem is played, and when the anthem is over, life goes on for all of us."

The team are hoping that their rich harvest can bring about another surge of interest in the sport, just like the Class of 1993 did.

Sitoh Yih Pin, vice-president of the Singapore Wushu Dragon and Lion Dance Federation, paid tribute to the team's efforts in making the breakthrough, and also credited the home-crowd support in making a difference.

The MP for Potong Pasir added: "With the current competition in the regional wushu scene being stiffer, achieving this result is remarkable.

"Most of the exponents in this batch are actually quite young and we also have a promising crop of youth athletes coming through at school level.

"The future looks bright."


Cueist Gilchrist in a gold-winning frame of mind
By Marcus Lim, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

WHEN Peter Gilchrist won his pet event - the English billiards (500) - at the SEA Games on Sunday, he rated his performance level at "60 per cent".

Yesterday, the Singaporean was crowned the English billiards singles champion for the fourth consecutive Games and delivered a warning that will send chills down the spines of his future opponents.

"I'm playing at 95 per cent now... getting to 100," Gilchrist said after his emphatic 3-0 gold medal win over Myanmar's Htay Aung.

"Hopefully in the doubles and team match, I will be at 100 per cent because we need that."

Played at the OCBC Arena, Gilchrist continued his dominance in style as Htay lost in consecutive frames (101-53, 102-48, 100-16).

The champion said: "I felt that I knew what I wanted to do with the balls, so it was pretty straightforward. I know that sounds a bit confident of me but I'm playing very well now."

In the earlier rounds, the 47-year-old underlined his class with a display of scintillating marksmanship.

Dropping the first frame to both Indonesia's Jaka Kurniawan in the quarter-finals and Myanmar's Oo Kyaw in the last four, Gilchrist stormed back in style, hardly giving his opponents the chance to return to the table, leaving them stunned.

For his latest win, Gilchrist credits the Sports Excellence (Spex) scholarship he received in 2013 as a factor that propelled him to victory. The programme provides selected athletes with financial support, allowing them to train full-time.

"Being on the scholarship is the best thing that's ever happened to me. Everyone is behind me on it. The support system is just fantastic," said Gilchrist, who previously had to balance playing and coaching the national team.

"I kept getting beaten by players and I almost wanted to retire, but now I can put all my efforts into training."

The England-born Singaporean is now looking forward to being paired with Chan Keng Kwang in today's men's doubles - an event that he has never won.

He will also be part of the team that will face Vietnam tomorrow in the billiards team event.

And Gilchrist is itching to go now that his turbo is on, saying: "We have home support with a great atmosphere and I'm in top form, which I wasn't last time."

The other Singaporean to play yesterday was Aloysius Yapp in the men's 9-ball pool singles.

The 19-year-old defeated Brunei's Ahmad Taufiq Murni 9-4 to advance to today's quarter-final against Myanmar's Maung Maung.

Resolute Singapore seal first gold
Dramatic finish as Malaysia tie score in last quarter but hosts find edge
By Isaac Neo, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2015

TIED at 39-39 midway through the fourth quarter of the SEA Games netball final, Singapore coach Ruth Aitken called a time-out. She had seen enough.

With the gold medal on the line, her team had just let a five-goal lead over arch-rivals Malaysia evaporate. The 3,000-strong capacity crowd at the OCBC Arena had suddenly lost their voices, stunned by the Malaysian fightback.

The crowd's anxiety was understandable. Five days earlier, Singapore had let a six-goal lead slip to the Malaysians and eventually drew the match 35-35.

But this was not just an ordinary preliminary game. With President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in attendance, this was a match of utmost importance.

With the pain of losing the 2001 SEA Games final still playing on the mind of Singapore goal defender Premila Hirubalan and many associated with the sport here, this was a match nobody wanted to lose.

And no one wanted the win more than Hirubalan, the only player in the squad to have featured in 2001, the last time the sport featured at the Games.

"Some of my team-mates laugh, because back then they were in kindergarten," said the 32-year-old.

But as the time-out was called, and with Singapore's gold hopes fading, laughter would not be the best medicine. Instead, what was needed was a strong dose of self-belief. "If they (Malaysia) can do it, we can do it too. If they come back and try to bite us, we're going to come back harder," said Hirubalan.

But fighting words can only do so much. The team also needed to regain their composure and stick to what they do best - defend, force a turnover and hit the Malaysians on the break with fast movement and passing.

Said Aitken, a former World Championship winner with New Zealand: "It was about applying the pressure on their defence, so our attackers had to slow that ball down. And then when we got possession, it was about moving fast, letting the ball go and passing."

Singapore did just that, their renewed confidence putting pressure on the Malaysians, resulting in several turnovers, including a vital interception by vice-captain and goal attack Chen Huifen.

Said Hirubalan: "Towards the last few minutes when Huifen managed to intercept this fantastic ball and ran all the way down to put the shot in, that's when I knew, everyone is fighting for every single thing... no matter what, we won't give up."

They held on to outscore their opponents and win 46-43 to rapturous cheers from the crowd, which also included Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, who presented the medals.

It also helped that goal shooter Charmaine Soh had undergone "noise training" to cope with the fever-pitch atmosphere.

Training with noise like heavy metal music worked a treat. She had stuttered late in Tuesday's game, missing four shots in a row for 72 per cent goal accuracy, but yesterday she emerged as the game's highest scorer with 38 goals and 79 per cent accuracy.

Not surprisingly, the crowd and the energy they exhibited served to inspire the team.

Captain Micky Lin, who has been on three Asian Championship-winning teams, said it was a special moment to win the gold on home ground.

"This is my first SEA Games, even though I've been playing for over 10 years, so this is really special," she said. "It's not often that netball is featured in a multi-sport event... the atmosphere was amazing, I'm really proud to be part of such an event."

Added Hirubalan: "We're usually a very quiet society, but everyone was cheering their hearts out.

"I've never been prouder to sing the National Anthem."

Foil team win 1st men's fencing gold
By Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2015

AFTER four days of near misses, Singapore's male fencers finally broke their historical golden duck at the OCBC Arena last night.

The youthful men's foil team faced the Philippines in the SEA Games' final fencing event, and won 45-40 to snare the Republic's first men's fencing gold in the biennial competition.

And it was a mighty relief for the entire men's team, who were made to endure narrow defeats through the four days of competition, especially in Saturday's 43-44 men's epee team final loss to Vietnam.

That heartbreaking loss by the epee fencers could have affected the foil fencers, three of whom were making their Games debut.

But the team - comprising Kevin Jerrold Chan, 17, Joshua Ian Lim, 19, Justin Ong, 21 and Tan Yuan Zi, 25 - stayed focused, as the Philippines were no pushovers after beating fancied Thailand in the semi-finals.

Simon Senft, national coach for the foil team, added: "In the individual event, Kevin lost to a Thai opponent and we also lost to the Thais at the last South-east Asian Championships.

"It might be better to fence Philippines instead, as they will have no fear and we have never fenced against this team before."

However Tan, who was the only one among the team who had SEA Games experience, said: "We knew that we could contend for the gold, but it will not be an easy fight. It was very close, but I am extremely proud that we fought all the way to the end and made it."

The final was indeed evenly-matched, as Singapore took the lead after they were tied at 25-all, but Philippines stayed close all the way, trailing by just 39-42 near the end of the tie.

Tan revealed: "Coach told us to stay focused on the game plan, do not rush and try to pull a very big lead. It is all these little points and leads that add up to our gold medal."

With the last point scored, the crowd erupted into thunderous cheers as Lim, the last fencer, took off his mask and raised his arms in jubilation.

It made up for the semi-final defeats earlier yesterday by the women's sabre team, who lost to Vietnam 36-45, and the women's epee team, who lost narrowly to the Philippines 28-29. Both settled for bronze.

With a successful harvest of three golds, three silvers and seven bronzes, the men's foil team's breakthrough ensured that Team Singapore ended their SEA Games journey on the sweetest note.

2nd dive a flop but Mark's solid last attempt rescues bronze
By Charles Ong, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2015

THERE was almost an air of resignation at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, after national diver Mark Lee fluffed his second attempt yesterday.

Lost for words, the crowd could only conjure quiet applause, while he thought his podium hopes were over.

After all, the 20-year-old was seventh out of eight competitors after two out of six rounds.

But he rallied hard to make a stirring fight-back, eventually clinching the SEA Games men's 3m springboard bronze with 349.25 points.

Malaysia's Ooi Tze Liang (473.55) emerged victorious, while Indonesian Akhmad Sukran Jamjami (381.00) took the silver.

"I didn't even think about a medal after my second dive... I thought it was out of my league," said an elated Mark.

"I had nothing to lose, and the comeback was insane."

He edged out his twin brother Timothy by a mere 1.95 points, after an astounding final attempt which reaped him a 69.70.

"That was my most 'wonky' dive, I wasn't consistent with it at all," Mark added. "It was a huge gamble for me but it paid off."

But Singapore found more success in the women's 10m synchronised platform final, when Myra Lee and Freida Lim snagged the silver with a 238.59 showing, though short of their personal best.

Leong Mun Yee and Traisy Vivien Tukiet ensured Malaysia took home their fourth diving gold (306.66), while Thailand's Jiratchaya Yothongyos and Surincha Booranapol finished third (222.12).

Said Myra: "There's a longer route ahead for us, and we want to keep going further."

Home crowd the inspiration behind double canoe gold
By Charmaine Ng, The Sunday Times, 7 Jun 2015

Lucas Teo had been here before. With the end in sight in the K1 1,000m race, and his closest rival - Thailand's Wichan Jaitieng - matching his every move, his mind flashed back to the 2011 SEA Games.

Making his Games debut then, the 25-year-old lost the gold when he finished five seconds behind Wichan in the same event.

At the Marina Channel yesterday, he was determined not to let history repeat itself.

But as he entered the final 300 metres, the aching pain from his overworked arms became hard to ignore.

His arch-rival threatened to pull away. Then, he heard the cheers.

Sitting on the bank on the channel, a small but partisan crowd of about 250 people made their voices heard. They screamed his name and slapped cheering sticks against each other as they rose to their feet, anticipating a tight finish.

Fuelled by the roars of the crowd, Teo powered to victory in a new personal best of 3min 43.036sec - more than two seconds ahead of his Thai rival - to win a historic men's canoe gold, the first for Singapore in SEA Games history.

"I started to up my pace and he (Wichan) started to slow down a little bit, giving me the edge," said Teo, who is in his third year at the National University of Singapore.

But he admitted that he could not have done it without the crowd's support.

He said: "I heard all the cheers and it spurred me on in the last part... I knew my parents, friends and relatives were here."

The medal was a result of five years of hard work and patience.

At the last Games in 2013, he missed out on the opportunity to stake a claim for the title as the event was not contested.

"This time round was my biggest chance to win it... I really wanted the gold," said Teo.

For the Singapore canoe team, the loud and proud home support was a welcome change to the silence that greets them when they train at the channel.

Brandon Ooi, 20, and Bill Lee, 29, who powered to victory in the K2, also paid tribute to those cheering them on.

Said Lee: "In the last part of our race, we really were quite spent.

"So to have the home crowd behind you, that was really what made the difference."

Before the win, Ooi had won only bronze medals in the past editions of the Games - from the K1 500m in 2013 and K2 200m and 1,000m in 2011.

With two momentous wins on the first of three canoeing competition days, coach Balazs Babella is confident ahead of the races tomorrow and on Tuesday.

"This is what we needed. It's something that will make the others do better than they ever could," said the 37-year-old Hungarian.

While Singapore took the gold in the K1 and K2 races, they finished empty-handed in the remaining K4 and C1 events.

They were won by the Thailand team and Indonesia's Marjuki respectively.

Singapore did not participate in the C2 race which was won by Myanmar's Htike Win and Wai Sai Min.

For the Republic's athletes, however, the landmark wins are a shared contribution by the team.

"Without them, the two golds would have not been possible. Without them training on the water every day, pushing each other, Brandon, Bill and Lucas would not have been able to win anything," said Babella.

As the afternoon sun blazed down on the spectators, the three kayakers received their gold medals against the backdrop of the city's skyline.

But the thing that stood out the most was a white styrofoam sign stuck out of the fervent crowd, declaring: "Lucas Teo K1 1,000m GOLD". It was not fancy - written with a red marker. But it was heartfelt - and it proved all the difference in the world.

Great leap forward, at long last
S'pore men's team break duck, winning first-ever Games' gymnastics medal
By Lok Weng Seng, The Sunday Times, 7 Jun 2015

For too long the Singapore men's gymnastic team have lived in the shadow of their female colleagues. While the latter are widely regarded as one of the region's best gymnastics teams, the men have found success hard to come by.

But at the Bishan Sports Hall yesterday, the men finally proved that they too can be relied on to bring in the medals.

The team of Gabriel Gan, Timothy Tay, Muhammad Jufrie Aizat, Terry Tay, Gregory Gan and Hoe Wah Toon became the first Singapore men's gymnastics team to clinch a medal at the SEA Games, taking bronze behind Thailand and winners Vietnam.

It would have been a more brilliant achievement had they closed a 0.05-point gap with the Thais, who totalled 318.150 points over six challenges - floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

But the home side were still happy with their performance as their points total was their highest so far.

"It was a big breakthrough for all of us," said Tay. "All the sacrifices we made feel worthwhile today."

But the bigger stars were Vietnam, who not only retained their artistic gymnastics men's team title but also gave a world-class showing of 344.700 points. The score would have placed them among the top 12 in the Olympics.

Said Vietnam's top gymnast on the day Pham Phuoc Hung, 26, who had the best all-around score of 86.900 points: "I'm very happy with the win because we've never achieved such high scores before."

Vietnam, who dominated with 12 golds the last time gymnastics featured at a SEA Games in 2011, are again expected to rule the sport.

But Singapore are also keen to add to the bronze.

Hoe, a vault medal hopeful, finished eighth and fifth for floor and vault respectively in the team event yesterday and will be competing in the two individual event finals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

For 2011 men's apparatus silver medallist Gabriel Gan, who finished fourth and seventh for pommel horse and all-around yesterday, he is expecting a medal from the pommel horse individual event on Tuesday.

Said Hoe: "On the day of the finals, it really depends on who performs better.

"Everyone has a fair chance on that day."

Quah stakes claim as new King of Backstroke
He wins Singapore's first swimming gold but Vietnam dominate opening day's races
By Chua Siang Yee, The Sunday Times, 7 Jun 2015

Quah Zheng Wen is pencilled in for 12 events at the SEA Games. Yet if there was one race the Singapore swimmer was itching to win, it was the 100m backstroke.

At the last SEA Games, after finishing second to Indonesia's I Gede Siman Sudartawa in the same event, he said: "They call him the South-east Asian king of backstroke. Hopefully in 2015, there will be some dethroning going on."

Yesterday, on the opening night of the swimming programme and in front of a capacity crowd at the 3,000-seat OCBC Aquatic Centre, he did just that.

Clocking 54.51sec, the 18-year-old Singaporean set a new Games and national record to finish more than a second ahead of the Indonesian's 55.60. Vietnam's Tran Duy Khoi was third in 56.31sec.

Trailing at the halfway mark, Quah's powerful underwater kicks at the turn helped him surge ahead of his rival and into the lead, one he never relinquished.

Said a visibly pleased Quah: "At the turn, I saw that we were level, and that gave me the confidence to go on and win the race.

"I'm always more confident in the 200m, so I'm happy to have won this. It gives me more confidence (against Siman) going forward, but I can't get complacent. The 50m will be very close."

Siman has vowed not to make it easy for Quah: "I'm disappointed, but I did everything right. His underwater kicks were excellent. But I'll try to win the 50m."

The win helped ease Quah's disappointment of narrowly losing the 200m freestyle to Vietnam's Hoang Quy Phuoc in the opening swim of the evening. The defending champion won in a Games record of 1:48.96, while Quah was second in 1:49.17.

There was some consolation for the Singaporean though, who set a national record with his time.

Singapore's other gold came from the women's 4x100m freestyle relay, which the quartet of Nur Marina Chan, Amanda Lim, Hoong En Qi and Quah Ting Wen won in 3:46.60.

Lionel Khoo added a silver in the 200m breaststroke. His time of 2:16.66 was also a national record. Christopher Cheong was third in 2:16.99 in a race won by Thai Radomyos Matjiur in 2:14.83, while debutante Quah Jing Wen added a bronze in the 400m individual medley.

Yet, while it was a positive night for Singapore, it was Vietnam who stole the show with three golds and three Games records from six events.

Leading the Vietnamese charge was Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who finished with two golds to add to Phuoc's win in the 200m free.

Anh Vien was in a class of her own, as she won the 800m free in 8:34.85, way ahead of Thailand's Ammiga Himathongkom (8:52.99) and Benjaporn Sriphanomthorn (8:56.39). The previous Games mark was 8:35.41.

It was the same story in the 400m individual medley, which the Vietnamese won in 4:42.88, bettering the previous Games mark of 4:43.93 - which she had set in the morning's heats.

Thailand's Pawapotako Phiangkhwan was second (4:52.63), and Jing Wen took third spot (4:59.52).

Said Nguyen, who is entered for 13 races: "I'm not surprised, I knew I can do this. I'm happy to have won, and I will try my best to win my other races."

Finally, a reason to smile
With two golds, S'pore's synchro team are enjoying life at the top
By Louisa Goh, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2015

THEY smiled for the cameras, penned autographs and waved to their adoring fans, all the while looking as pristine and perfect as when they claimed their second gold of the SEA Games.

But not many in the OCBC Aquatic Centre knew that just moments before the Singapore synchronised swimming team celebrated with the home crowd, the 10 girls were in tears.

It was an unusual sight for a team who had been the epitome of confidence and poise at these Games.

But after last night's final event and with gold No. 2 in the bag, as well as the title of Asean's best synchronised swimming nation, tears were understandable.

Grooving to Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing last night, Singapore's swimmers boosted and flipped with all their might to take the team free combination title, and end Malaysia's 14-year reign in the sport.

The win over Malaysia was especially sweet as the score, 77.0667 points, was a new best for the squad.

"I think we're very proud of ourselves - we trained really hard for it and are satisfied," said captain Stephanie Chen, 19.

Training six days a week, seven hours a day, Singapore's synchronised swimmers have come a long way in just over a decade, when they were unplaced at the 2001 Malaysia SEA Games.

At that time, support for the sport at the national level was almost non-existent, with only a few swim clubs active in looking after their athletes.

It was not until the mid-2000s that the sport was taken a bit more seriously, hiring its first national coach Yumiko Tomomatsu in 2009. She now trains the Italian national team.

It would take time before the concerted effort paid off and three silvers and a bronze at the 2011 Games were a sign of things to come.

"The 2011 SEA Games were a breakthrough point for us," said Stephanie. "When Singapore actually broke the 70-point barrier, which means on the international level - everyone starts to recognise Singapore's synchro as on a par with the international level, and able to compete with others."

With Singapore winning two team golds (team technical and free plus team free combination) and a silver (duet technical and free) by Stephanie and Crystal Yap, the Singapore Swimming Association is hoping that the success at these Games will help get the sport more recognition at the schools level, said its acting vice-president (synchronised swimming) Tay Chin Joo.

The association has struggled to bring the 20 schools needed to make synchronised swimming a recognised co-curricular activity, often falling short. Chen had participated in both rhythmic gymnastics and synchro while she was still in secondary school, a situation many interested students also find themselves in.

But if the past three days at the OCBC Aquatic Centre are anything to go by, the sport might just be in for a change in fortunes.

The arena's terraces were close to capacity on the last two nights, with fans young and old cheering themselves hoarse.

"We love the crowd. When the girls hear them, they're really encouraged and are energised," said Tay, looking on as Debbie Soh and Tay Aik Fen posed with the crowd for a picture.

For Debbie and her team, smiling, as is required in the sport, comes naturally.

But the events of the past few days have definitely made it easier to show off their pearly whites - even when tears are rolling down their cheeks.

Gao's patience delivers gold
S'porean banks on experience to beat Filipino for 4th singles title
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2015

WHEN Gao Ning fought to clinch table tennis' lone gold yesterday, red banners, red scarves and national flags were held up and waved in support of Singapore's top paddler.

So it was perhaps apt that after the world No. 15 swept past Richard Gonzales of the Philippines 11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-3 to win the men's singles event, the first thing he did was to bow to acknowledge the fans, pointing to the flag sewn on his jersey.

The win - Gao's fourth singles title at the biennial Games after previous triumphs in 2007, 2009 and 2011 - also avenged team- mate Clarence Chew's defeat by the Filipino in the semi-finals.

"I ran into some problems in the third and the fourth game, but throughout the whole match, I was certain I would be able to win," said the 31-year-old, who played in front of a partisan crowd of about 2,000.

"In front of so many home supporters, no matter how hard the match was, I couldn't lose.

"I was the favourite."

Compared to Chew, who had gone down after a 4-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 10-12 battle, the veteran Gao showcased his wealth of experience and skills.

While Chew had been too hasty to close out his semi-final - the 19-year-old was at one stage two points away from a 4-1 victory - Gao played far more patiently and with greater accuracy.

Said Gao: "I was fully prepared to go to the full seven games against Gonzales.

"The tempo of the match was a little slower than usual, but it was a final after all, so you definitely have to be more careful.

"Every point won takes you one step closer to the gold."

Despite his young charge settling for another bronze, national men's team head coach Yang Chuanning felt Chew had in fact performed better than Gao did against Gonzales, a defensive specialist.

Said Yang: "Gao Ning is technically superior to Clarence and probably only played to half of his strength.

"Clarence had such a good chance today and really should have won."

Ruing a missed chance at improving on his bronze medal from the 2013 Games, Chew said after his loss that he had been hampered by an injury to his shoulder suffered during his match on Wednesday.

He said: "I wanted to finish off the match too quickly and rushed it a bit too much.

"I'm still lacking when playing against defensive players so I have to work on that."

Gao, meanwhile, already has his eyes on the team event which begins tomorrow - and nothing less than golds for both the men's and women's events will do.

He said: "We have to be mentally prepared to fight our opponents. We can't fall and we definitely have to give our all."

Team Sync-gapore win
Swimmers bag first-ever synchro gold after getting the better of Malaysia
By Louisa Goh, The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2015

AN UNDERCURRENT of expectancy hummed through the packed stands, with all eyes on the eight swimmers who had their hearts set on winning Singapore's first synchronised swimming gold.

Loud cheers lapsed into a hushed silence as the girls struck their final pose on the deck.

Then, as swiftly as silence fell upon the OCBC Aquatic Centre, a man leapt up with a single rallying cry: "Go Singapore!"

The crowd would find its voice once more for a final cheer before the swimmers dived into the pool, where the vocal support would be muted against the steady beat of the music and the bubbling of the water.

The swimmers would carry the hopes of the thousand people in the stands, every voice joining them as they twisted, leapt and spun into the water.

"It was the first time in all our routines that we could actually feel the crowd," said captain Stephanie Chen, 19.

"It makes us want to do more, it's like the energy regenerates in us."

The swimmers had built up a commanding lead the night before, with the 1.99 points a beacon of hope for a team long in the shadow of regional powerhouses Malaysia.

However, anything could happen on the day of competition and the team's excitement was naturally tinged with the uncertainty of a subjectively-judged event, and fear that Malaysia could catch up.

But those fears were cast aside the moment fingers touched the cool water, minds centred only on delivering their very best.

True to Crystal Yap's promise of a fanciful performance the night before, Singapore's team free routine conjured up images of a battle, performed to the strident strumming of a Chinese zither.

It would turn out to be their best performance yet, with national coach Maryna Tsunashenka commending them on a flawless opening, as the girls back-flipped and linked arms to mimic a slithering snake.

It was a nail-biting three minutes as their faces disappeared underwater for long stretches at a time in the punishing routine that left spectators holding their breaths in sync.

The performance would falter towards the end, with a swimmer miscounting for a brief moment.

There was no time to think, except for her to fall back in place in harmony with her team.

That moment proved to be minor in the grand scheme of things as 76.5000 points awaited them, adding to their total score to reach 150.8445 points.

"They had a good performance - the start was very good but they had a little mistake," said Tsimashenka.

Yet, confirmation would come only 10 minutes later, after main rivals Malaysia had completed their routine. The scoreboard flashed 146.5204, signalling the end of Malaysia's reign.

The crowd roared its approval upon confirmation of Singapore's first synchro swimming gold.

For proud father, former top swimmer Tay Khoon Hean, 50, whose voice had rallied the crowd, the win was sweet reward for their dedication - daughter Aik Fen is part of a 12-strong squad - over the past year.

"I haven't seen my daughter for three weeks but their confidence level will be much higher after this win," he said.

The triumph is a first step towards achieving their Olympic dream - that had begun with the first SEA Games team in 2011.

"It's refreshing to see the young ones going up, and knowing that the standard has improved," said former national captain Mei Shan Krishnan, who has watched all the events so far.

Despite the first gold medal for Singapore being in their hands for barely 15 minutes, the swimmers are already looking ahead for the next big moment.

"We're hoping to bring back more medals so we just have to focus and do our best," said Chen, who will compete in the duet with Yap. They face a tough fight against Malaysia's Katrina Abdul Hadi and Lee Yhing Huey.

The team will go for a second gold in the free combination event in the evening.

Wang makes up for losses in both men's finals
By Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2015

ALL afternoon at the OCBC Arena Hall 2, triumphant cheers could be heard from the energetic crowd.

Rightly so, considering that three Singaporeans had made it into the fencing finals in each of their respective events - men's individual epee, men's individual sabre and women's individual foil.

But as Wang Wenying stepped onto the piste for the women's foil final, the once-boisterous crowd of over 600 had turned strangely muted.

Just a bout earlier, Singapore's top epee fencer, Lim Wei Wen, succumbed to Vietnam's Nguyen Tien Naht 8-15. These arch-rivals both earned bronzes at the Asian Games last year and had met twice previously, with both winning once each.

There was hope he would snag Singapore's first men's fencing gold at a SEA Games. But despite the packed hall cheering him on, the gold never came.

It was a blow to the fans and the Singapore camp.

Yet Wang knew better than to allow his loss to affect her. She knew the best way to get the crowd back on their feet was to stay calm, focus on her bout and win.

Standing at nearly 1.8m and towering a head above her opponent, Games debutante Tinio Justine Gail from the Philippines, she capitalised on her superior build and experience to win the match.

Wang said: "I didn't think too much (of Wei Wen's loss) even though I was aware. I knew I had a chance. I told myself to focus, calm down and get it point by point.

"I noticed that this girl is not very tall and since I am much taller, I may miss when attacking her. I felt that I was more confident relying on my defence so I told myself to continue with that all the way till the end."

Relying on a patient game plan, she waited and baited her opponent before going for the kill and eventually cruised to a 15-7 victory - a win which brought the cheers back.

The medal was all the more sweeter for Wang, a 2007 SEA Games gold medallist in the women's team foil, as it was her first individual Games gold.

"It is very special for me to win Singapore's first individual gold medal," said the 35-year-old fencing coach.

Her gold turned out to be the only one of the evening for the hosts, as Choy Yu Yong fell 11-15 to Vietnam's Vu Thanh An in the men's individual sabre final.

But the 17-year-old found some consolation in defeat.

Said the Hwa Chong Institution Year 6 student, who is taking his A levels this year: "This is definitely unexpected. I am a first-timer at the SEA Games and this is an extremely big stage for me."

With four medals to boast of - a bronze from Samson Lee in the men's individual epee, silvers from Lim and Yu Yong and a gold from Wang - the fencers have already bettered their 2011 Games haul of one silver and two bronzes.

It is a haul that Lim insists will get better.

Said Lim, who was visibly disappointed with his result: "I am very hungry for gold, especially here in Singapore, my home.

"My opponent caught me off guard and this is really not my best.

"There is a little bit of anger in me, but I am really happy for the winner.

"There is no excuse for my loss, I will come back stronger."

Then he added: "I want people to know that fencing is not just about poking, it is about fighting. We struggle and this is how we earn our victory."

Paddlers earn Singapore's first SEA Games golds
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2015

TEAM Singapore's quest for their best showing of more than 50 gold medals at the SEA Games began yesterday, when the table tennis players won two golds, a silver and a bronze.

The paddlers earned the first gold medals of the Games' 28th edition - three days before the official opening ceremony - with Zhou Yihan and Lin Ye winning the women's doubles event.

Gao Ning and Li Hu then claimed the men's doubles title.

The women's doubles gold had been assured yesterday afternoon, when the two Singapore pairs won their semi-final matches.

In the evening final, Zhou and Lin outplayed their more illustrious teammates Feng Tianwei and Yu Mengyu 7-11, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10, 3-11, 10-12, 11-7.

Gao and Li beat Thailand's Padasak Tanviriyavechakul and Chanakarn Udomsilp 11-8, 11-8, 12-10, 11-4 in the men's doubles final. Chen Feng and Clarence Chew settled for bronze after their defeat by the Thais in the semi-finals.

It is not uncommon for events to start before the Games' opening ceremony. The SEA Games Federation charter requires victory ceremonies to be held, if possible, immediately after an event has taken place.

Said Zhou: "Playing the first medal event of the SEA Games, we were definitely very nervous... this was a hard-earned win."

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