Dad's experience gives her the edge

Dad's experience gives her the edge
DO HIM PROUD: Savannah Siew wants to give her father (left) the perfect birthday present by doing well at the SEA Games.

Sheepishly, national sailor Savannah Siew confesses she feels apologetic towards her father.

The 18-year-old told The New Paper: "My dad's birthday is in July, but I haven't been back in Singapore to celebrate with him for the last three years because of international competitions, like the world championships and the Asian Games.

"Even this year, I won't be sure whether I'll be around, but I hope to give him a birthday gift by doing well at the SEA (South-east Asia) Games because I know how excited he is."

And for good reason.

Savannah's father Siew Shaw Her is a decorated former national sailor, having competed at three Olympics, won gold at the 1998 Asian Games and is a six-time SEA Games gold medallist, including triumphs at the 1983 and 1993 editions that were held in Singapore.

But few things can compare to watching his daughter blossom into a world-class sailor in her own right, which she has, with a world youth title, Asian Games and SEA Games gold medals sitting in the family trophy cabinet.

"She is already doing better than me at the same age," said Siew proudly.

"Savannah picked up sailing when she was seven, I started when I was 15. At her age, I was still struggling to sail at regional events.

EXCITED

"I'm very happy for her, and I'm proud that she has come this far.

"As a father and sportsman, I'm excited for her to be able to compete at a SEA Games on home ground like I have."

At this SEA Games, Savannah will partner Amanda Ng to take part in the women's double-handed 470 event.

This represents a challenge as she has just picked up the 470 last November, and this SEA Games is her first major test in this class.

"My previous successes were all in the 420, so definitely there are nerves ahead of the different 470 class," she said.

This is where Siew's experience and expertise come in, like they have throughout Savannah's sailing career.

She said: "Every time I pick up a new boat, he has been with me, teaching me the ropes, because he has been there and done that.

"He would sail with me one-on-one on the boat, as opposed to a regular coach, who would teach from an external boat.

"Such hands-on coaching is much more effective and efficient, as he is able to spot my mistakes and make me change before they become bad habits.

"He has also sailed with Amanda for a few sessions. Amanda and I have been working well with open communication, and we have seen quite a lot of improvement recently when we went to Spain, France and Italy for the European Olympic circuit events."

In fact, Siew has played an important role in keeping Savannah in the sport, especially as she has had to juggle with A Levels preparations and major competitions last year.

"I have been sailing for so long and, at times, it gets really intense on both ends of sports and studies," she said.

"Sometimes I feel down, sometimes I feel like giving up the sport. My father would encourage me and advise me to stick to it.

"Seriously, I wouldn't have been able to go so far without him."

So, what advice does Siew have for his daughter 22 years after he won gold on home waters?

Siew said: "Sailing is a different type of spectator sport because sailors don't see the crowd. But it's a strange feeling competing at home. Even if you don't see them, you feel the attention, like the whole country is behind you.

"There's pressure and expectation, but that should give you more drive and hunger.

"Savannah has the determination and drive to do well at this SEA Games, and also to go on and achieve more in this Olympic class.

"We have many talented sailors now. Compared to my time, their performances are so much better. The support and exposure are there. We should be able to win a medal in Tokyo 2020.

"It depends on how much hunger they have and how much they dare to dream."

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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