National coach Cunha's not ready to reveal who will run in 4x100 track relay

National coach Cunha's not ready to reveal who will run in 4x100 track relay
SO CLOSE: (From near right) Amirudin Jamal, Calvin Kang, Elfi Mustapa and Lee Cheng Wei clinched silver at the last SEA Games.

Pop quiz: Which track and field event has garnered the most medals for Singapore in 27 editions of the South-east Asia (SEA) Games?

Answer: The men's 4x100m relay team, who have reached the podium 18 times.

Although none of them have been gold.

The Republic's sprinters have won the silver medal on a remarkable 11 occasions, and bagged the bronze seven times.

Home fans are hoping this year will be different, as they look for Singapore's 4x100m men to stun hot favourites Thailand, when the 28th SEA Games is held on home soil from June 5 to 16.

In recent years, thanks to a crop of sound sprinters born around the same time - Gary Yeo in 1986 and Amirudin Jamal, Elfi Mustapa and Lee Cheng Wei all a year later - the Republic have come close at the last three Games.

They were edged out by 0.48sec in 2009, in an agonising photo-finish in 2011, and by 0.04sec in 2013.

When told of the record last night, national sprints coach Luis Cunha quipped: "Thanks for putting me under more pressure!"

The Portuguese was hired by Singapore Athletics last December to prepare the relay team, replacing Melvin Tan, who had coached the team in 2011 and 2013.

Cunha has been carrying out training sessions with the men's and women's 4x100m and 4x400m teams every Saturday since last month's Singapore Open, and progress has been good, according to him.

"The only thing I can do is get our team running the best we can. But that's also the approach of the other teams, and they want the gold like us," he indicated.

"I know people don't like the phrase: 'We will do our best'.

"But it's really true in the relay event.

"If we clock a new national record, you could say we did good, but we might finish second. So we just have to do what we can."

The current batch of sprinters first caught the eye when they became Singapore's first relay team to go under 40sec, clocking 39.82 at the 2009 SEA Games under the guidance of Hamkah Afik.

In 2013, they lowered the national mark to 39.45.

The Thai gold-medal quartet clocked 39.75 at the 2013 Games in Myanmar.

While Cunha has his final four in mind, he is playing his cards close to his chest.

FASTEST GUY FIRST

When TNP asked him if the most in-form 100m sprinter would at least anchor the team, Cunha said: "No. The first-leg runner has to run 105 metres, the last one only about 95m (with the baton), almost 10m less.

"So, to me, doesn't it make sense to put your fastest guy first?

"But it's not a rule. All the legs of the race need runners with different characteristics.

"So what the guys do in the 100m is different from what they do in a relay, and there are a lot of things to consider."

The team will crank up their training sessions to twice a week after they return from competing at the Taiwan Open on May 15 and 16, and Amirudin hopes Cunha will settle on his final four by then.

The 28-year-old, who won the 100m bronze at the 2013 Games, said: "For the sake of the team, I hope the four who run at the Taiwan Open will be the ones who run at the SEA Games.

"We don't have much time and it's our last chance to learn from any mistakes."

One man who badly wants to make history with the relay team is Yeo, who has competed in four Games.

He failed to make the cut for the century sprint and the relay is the only event he will compete in.

He has been a part of five record-setting teams, running the second leg each time.

"I've always thought this team can win gold, so I'll give of my best, as always," said the 28-year-old, for whom this could be his last Games.

"We really owe it to ourselves to show we can be the best."


This article was first published on May 5, 2015.
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