SEA Games: Audrey Yong wins S'pore's first windsurfing gold since 1989

SEA Games: Audrey Yong wins S'pore's first windsurfing gold since 1989
PROUD: Audrey Yong (above) emerges victorious in the women’s RSX windsurfing event.

For 26 years, the late Kelly Chan stood tall as Singapore's only windsurfing gold medallist in the SEA Games.

Chan won gold at Kuala Lumpur in 1989, and at the time few would have guessed Singapore would take so long to win another windsurfing event at the Games.

Thanks!

Perhaps it was fitting that his son Kelly Chan Jr, a former national sailor, congratulated Audrey Yong after the victory ceremony for the women's RSX windsurfing event at East Coast Park.

Yong finally ended the Republic's arduous wait for a second windsurfing gold medal. But reaching the top has not been easy for the 20-year-old, who has had to juggle training with her school work, even taking a leave of absence to prepare.

Her sacrifice has paid off spectacularly.

The final-year Singapore Polytechnic student was doubly excited, after finally beating long-time rival Siripon Kaewduang-Ngam of Thailand, who won the event at the 2011 Games.

"It feels really good to beat her this time," she said.

"I've played second fiddle to her in many races in Asia, including last year's Asian Games, so I was really pumped to win at home."

The Thai won all four races on Tuesday for Yong to hold a slender one-point lead going into the final race yesterday, which meant there was no room for error for the Singaporean, especially with double points on offer for the clincher.

"It was a bit depressing for me to have won the first five races and then lose the next four. I was definitely feeling the nerves," said Yong.

A sudden burst of speed from the Thai on the final down-wind sail had the home supporters' hearts in their mouths, but Yong, who had been leading the race, crossed the finish line just in time to secure her win.

In the men's RSX final, Leonard Ong claimed the silver for the hosts after beating Indonesian legend Oka Sulaksana by a whisker.

Thailand's Natthaphong Phonoppharat had already been assured of the gold after dominating the competition with eight wins in nine races.

Ben Tan, president of the Singapore Sailing Federation, was delighted to see Singapore's windsurfers deliver their best result at the Games.

"For a long time, people respected Singapore for its sailors, but not the windsurfers. The sport was always our Achilles' heel and I could not accept that," he said.

"It felt wrong to let Kelly (Chan) down."

The decorated sailor attributed Singapore's success to a complete overhaul of the windsurfing programme, which began in 2010.

This included appointing businessman Gordon Tang as the president of the Windsurfing Association of Singapore.

A long-time windsurfer himself, Tang sponsored Yong and Ong's training with the Guangzhou windsurfing team, known as the best in China.

"The winds in Singapore are just not strong enough. I was determined to help Singapore get another victory, and the only way was to send our windsurfers abroad to train in tougher conditions," he said.

"They improved so much in China over just six months, and looking at the results today, I'm confident we will continue to send more windsurfers to train there."

benlim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 11, 2015.
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