IT ALL came down to Muhammad Nur Alfian Juma'en. Whether the national silat team ended their SEA Games in disaster or with a glorious gold rested solely on the shoulders of the 18-year-old.
Everything about the Class F (70-75kg) gold-medal match oozed pressure. The expectant looks on the faces of the Singapore team. A packed Singapore Expo Hall 2, still awaiting a first win. Not to mention that standing in his way was a current world champion in Tran Dinh Nam from Vietnam.
The last thing Alfian needed was another obstacle. But it came midway through his match.
But even as the pain from a deep cut between his toes coursed through his body, he knew this was not the time to let up.
Holding a slight edge going into the final round, Alfian knew he needed another good move to seal the win.
His approach to the game had been one of patience. And so he waited. And when Tran left his right leg hanging after an attempted kick, he saw his chance.
Grabbing the Vietnamese fighter's right foot, he promptly swept his opponent's left to send him to the mat, scoring four points and virtually sealing the gold.
The confirmation would come just minutes later at the final gong when judges ruled the match 5-0 in favour of the Singaporean.
It sparked wild celebrations in the arena, none more than from Singapore Silat Federation (Persisi) CEO Sheik Alau'ddin, who gave his champion a bear hug.
The victory proved to be an especially special moment for Alfian. He had lost 2-3 to Tran in the quarter-finals of January's World Championships in Phuket.
"I can't describe how happy I feel right now," said the Ngee Ann Polytechnic student as he held the national flag in one hand as tears streamed down his cheeks.
"To say that I am 100 times happy cannot match how I feel. My diet, training and sacrifices made have finally paid off."
The defending SEA Games champion attributed his victory to a change in strategy from the last time he met Tran.
He said: "Watching the video from the World Champs showed that I was always attacking first.
"So, this time, I waited for him to strike before catching him on the counter-attack."
Said an emotional Sheik: "Alfian's gold gave silat something to give Singapore."
But while overjoyed with the lone gold, he could not hide his disappointment over what he felt was a poor selection of judges.
He claimed poor judging cost Singapore at least one gold medal as the silat team ended the Games with a haul of one gold, one silver and six bronzes.
He felt that the event should have judges from neutral countries instead of those from nations participating at the SEA Games.
He added that he would be submitting a full report to the International Silat Federation.
The controversy over the jury panel was also pointed out by Thailand, who protested Khansakhon Nanthachai's disqualification for performing an illegal kick on Malaysia's Muhammad Nasir in the men's Tanding Class B (50-55kg) final.
Suhartono, Thailand's head coach, slammed what he called a "poor standard of judging".
He said: "Our player is the defending champion from 2013's SEA Games and everyone wants to beat him. I protested because it was clear in the video replay that his opponent was full of drama."
However, Shafaq Ali Haq, the chief juror of the panel, is adamant that the situation is under control.
Said the Singaporean who is the chairman of competition: "The protest was all at the spur of the moment, and in contact sports like silat, it is very easy for people to get excited."
But while controversy may have marred the Games for the Singapore team, they can at least savour Alfian's gold. He sure is.
"It is very satisfying to win this gold medal and show that silat can do well in the SEA Games," said the champion.
"It was truly a special moment for me. To beat the world champion, to beat the man whom I lost to and to defend my title at home is unforgettable."
This article was first published on June 15, 2015.
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