SEA Games a dream for heptathlete

SEA Games a dream for heptathlete
Goh Chui Ling, previously a 400m runner, is hoping to represent Singapore in the women’s heptathlon at the SEA Games in June.

SHE trains at five different venues across Singapore, works with three specialist coaches and competes using hand-me-down spikes.

Heptathlete Goh Chui Ling is doing everything she can in her chase for that elusive qualifying spot at the June 5-16 SEA Games, but even if she succeeds, she will also be the first to admit that her medal prospects are slim at best.

The last time Singapore sent a heptathlete to the biennial competition was in 1993 - also coincidentally on home soil.

And while Yu Long Nyu finished with a bronze medal then, a repeat scenario is unlikely, such is the gulf in standards between Goh, 22, and her regional rivals.

While her personal-best tally is 4,168 points for the gruelling, seven-discipline sport, not since the 2003 Hanoi Games has there been a podium finisher under 5,000 points (Vietnamese Nguyen Thi Kim Nhung scored 4,673 points to clinch bronze).

But consider this. Goh, previously a 400m runner and high jumper, has only been a heptathlete for five months. She was persuaded to make the switch last November by jumps coach Chan See Huey, a former national heptathlete herself.

Goh has participated in three heptathlon competitions, lining up against rivals who have been involved in the sport for more than a decade. In that period, the regional scene has been dominated by Wassana Winatho of Thailand, the 2013 SEA Games champion who has won the event five times, including on her debut at the 1999 Games in Brunei.

Goh, a National University of Singapore fourth-year law undergraduate, said: "There are no heptathletes in Singapore and with my background she (Chan) felt I could be successful in it and could at least compete at a decent level with the rest of the girls at the SEA Games."

Currently only a handful of local athletes - Shanti Pereira (200m), Hannah Lee (discus), Zhang Guirong (discus), Michelle Sng (high jump), Rachel Yang (pole vault), Zubin Muncherji (400m), Amirudin Jamal (100m) and the men's 4x100m relay team - have met their respective qualifying marks, which are equivalent to the third-placed results at the previous Games.

But with the window closing after this weekend's Singapore Open, some leeway will be shown, as the Republic plays Games host.

Singapore Athletics will consider candidates within 15 per cent of the qualifying mark. Those outside that threshold will be studied on a case-by-case basis.

Said its vice-president (training and selection) C. Kunalan: "We will not send anyone for the men's and women's hammer throw, but other than that, we would like to fill the rest of the 46 events with at least one local athlete, if possible two.

"A few of them may be outside the mark but they have been working very hard and making a lot of sacrifices and we believe they deserve a chance to represent their country."

This arrangement, however, has divided opinion within the local track and field fraternity.

Some feel that, particularly in events where the disparity is too great, it would be better not to include a Singaporean participant.

For instance, 19-year-old Cheryl Chan may have broken the natioanl women's 3,000m steeplechase record last week but her time of 12min 7.42sec could see her being lapped at the National Stadium by 2011 and 2013 champion Rini Budiarti. The Indonesian clocked 9:49.46 at last year's Asian Games in Incheon.

Middle-distance runner Colin Tung, hoping to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) of his suitability in the 3,000m steeplechase come June, is adamant that this chance of exposure is vital for development.

With a personal best of 10:02.30, he is about 10 per cent outside the qualifying mark and even a significant improvement would still see him lagging far behind his rivals. Thai Patikarn Pechsricha clocked 9:04.04 to finish third in Myanmar.

Said Tung, 26, who quit his job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in March last year to train full-time and realise his dream of competing in the SEA Games: "There will always be critics who look at the gap between us and the winners and question why we are even running.

"While I understand their point, this is our home Games and a great platform. Without taking that first step to compete at a higher level how can we make progress?"

It is this grit that SNOC secretary general Chris Chan hopes to see in all local athletes should they be given the nod.

He said: "We want to put as many of our athletes as possible on the starting line. Even if they lose or are lapped, we want them to show that fighting spirit and desire to compete."

jonwong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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