Athletics: Focus and deliver

Athletics: Focus and deliver
SPEEDSTERS: Singapore sprinters (from far left) Muhd Elfi Mustapa, Lee Cheng Wei, Gary Yeo, Goh Chui Ling, Dipna Lim-Prasad, Tyra Summer Ree, Muhd Amiruddin Jamal and Calvin Kang are hoping to light up the new National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?

That seems to be the unwanted tag that the men's national 4x100m relay team have had to live with, after finishing second at three consecutive South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

In Laos in 2009, the team finished 0.52 seconds behind Thailand's winning quartet, who clocked 39.34sec.

Two years later, in Indonesia, a photo finish was needed to separate them and the host nation, with both relay teams clocking 39.91.

And in Myanmar in 2013, the Republic's sprinters finished behind Thailand again, this time just 0.04 off.

Needless to say, the target ahead of the 2015 SEA Games on home soil from June 5-16, is to finally bag that elusive gold.

And a strong showing at the Singapore Open Track and Field Championships this weekend at the National Stadium, will be a huge boost to the local sprinters' confidence as they fine-tune their preparations for the biennial Games.

Calvin Kang, who was part of the 2011 and 2013 silver-medal winning teams, said: "We're two months shy of the SEA Games, and the timing of the Singapore Open is good.

"If we do well, then it will be great for our confidence. If we don't, we know we still have some time to improve.

"The most important thing tomorrow is to focus."

The team were handled by Melvin Tan in 2009, 2011 and 2013, but the 47-year-old coach decided to step down after the 2013 SEA Games to give the squad a fresh start.

Portuguese coach Luis Cunha, who was appointed as national sprints coach last December, will guide the team in June.

"The biggest difference this time round is that we have a new coach in Luis," said Kang.

"And, to be honest, we haven't done much relay work yet, but we've been working on our individual speed."

The 24-year-old Singapore Sports School alumni added that the relay team's strength lies in their baton exchanges, and said the approach could pay dividends in June.

"Look at Jamaica, they're not the best passers around but, because they're just so fast individually, they are the best relay team in the world," he said.

Indeed, Cunha, 49, is firmly focused on how his sprinters do individually.

So he is not setting them a target to impress in the 4x100m final this evening, even though the sprinters can consider themselves slight favourites, with Thailand absent from the meet.

Indonesia, led by 2013 SEA Games men's individual 100m silver medallist Iswandi, will take part in the relay.

Said Cunha: "For now, the most important thing is for our runners to compete well in the individual events.

"Once they do that, we'll start working more on the relay and passing.

"They already know each other well from the last four or five years, so I hope this can help them get good results in the relay at the SEA Games."

The former Olympian added that he would decide on the six names (four runners and two reserves) for the 4x100m team, after this weekend.

LEARNING CURVE

Cunha also added that he had learnt a lot about the Republic's top sprinters in a two-week training stint in Australia - during which Dipna Lim-Prasad set a new national women's 400m hurdles record - but reiterated that he would not set any target for any of them this weekend.

"I don't have a crystal ball that will tell me what will happen this weekend," he joked.

"But I can tell you everyone is motivated, not only because it is their last chance to qualify for the SEA Games, but also because this is their first time competing at the Sports Hub.

"My wish is they perform well individually, and give me problems for my selection of the relay team. I believe they can do it."

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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