Rookies want to spearhead revival

Rookies want to spearhead revival
SEA Games athletes, Soh Rui Yong (men's marathon) and Tin Shu Min (women's 20km race walk)

Whether they are chasing a dream gold or a personal-best time, Singapore's track and field athletes will be hoping their collective efforts can spur a revival of interest in the sport in Singapore.

And they do have strength in numbers - 74 of them will compete at the Games, the largest contingent ever sent out by Singapore Athletics for the SEA Games, and a big leap from a 25-man contingent who took part in 2013.

Of these 74 athletes, 50 are Games debutants, something which Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei was quick to hail as a distinct achievement.

As a group, he believes these Games' first-timers represent a refreshing tilt towards renewal in local athletics. The likes of Dipna Lim-Prasad will still anchor the squad as familiar heroes but these young guns are heralding a new era of Singapore athletics.

One of them is distance runner Soh Rui Yong, who burst onto the scene when he clocked the second-fastest marathon time by a Singaporean in his very first competitive race.

His time of 2hr 26min 1sec at last December's California International Marathon is more than two minutes faster than Mok Ying Ren's winning time of 2:28:36 at the 2013 Myanmar Games.

Still, he remains modest about his achievement. "I'm just the new kid on the block, trying to run against some of these established professionals," he said.

"I have nothing to lose. But having said that, when I train, I don't train to get fourth or a bronze. I train with one goal in mind - to win the race in any possible circumstance."

Another debutante who makes no secret of her desire for a podium finish is Hannah Lee, 22.

Her personal best of 45.91m in the discus throw, achieved at the January 2014 Track Series 1, is comfortably ahead of the 42.26m silver-medal mark set by countrywoman Zhang Guirong in 2013.

Nevertheless, she is aware that making a major Games debut on home soil comes with a heightened sense of every emotion, primarily anticipation and fear.

Said the Singapore Institute of Technology student: "On one hand, going to the Games is my dream. On the other hand, it becomes scarier every day.

"Just thinking about how much I want it... I've given way too much to this sport for me to reach there and fail."

Then, there is another group of first-time athletes who look to the Games chiefly as a springboard for their future careers.

Tin Shu Min, 19, has no specific medal target for her event, the 20km race walk, as her national record of 1:58:26 falls way short of the bronze-winning time of 1:40:15 at the last Games.

Still, she hopes she can inch closer to the 1hr 40min mark at these Games, and has taken a gap year to train for the event after finishing her A levels in 2013, much to her friends' surprise. "They told me to just go to university," said the ex-Hwa Chong Institution student.

But for Tin, deferring her studies was no loss. In January at the Asian Race Walking Championships selection trial, she smashed the national record for the third time in a row.

Beyond success on the track, she also gained admission to read law at the Singapore Management University, her likely choice of course. "I just keep telling myself that it's true what they say - you only live once," she said.

"Even though I was stressed because it seemed like all my friends were going to really good universities, I really have no regrets. It was a great decision and it's wonderful to be doing what I love."

Tin's success story is indicative of a slow but steady revitalisation of the domestic track and field scene. Just this year, race walking was finally introduced as a point-scoring event at the Schools National Track and Field Championships, and an impressive 117 competitors across six divisions took part.

Said Tang: "It's not just, 'I represented Singapore in the 2015 SEA Games and hung up my spikes or running shoes after that.' This is a platform for them to continue their journey."

As journeys go, all 74 Singapore representatives have travelled far as athletes. Whether they continue their individual odysseys will depend on their performances starting on Saturday.

Said Soh: "Hosting the Games doesn't automatically give us the benefit of progress. We have to respond well and carry ourselves well."

This article was first published on June 4, 2015.
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