SEA Games squads' overseas tune-ups

SEA Games squads' overseas tune-ups

With just over two months remaining until the start of the SEA Games, several of the key national sports associations (NSAs) tipped to deliver gold medals are sparing no effort nor expense to give their athletes that winning edge.

Overseas stints have become de rigueur as coaches seek elite-level sparring partners, specialised training conditions and international competitions for their charges to fine-tune their preparations ahead of the June 5-16 Games on home soil.

Led by national head coach Sergio Lopez, the Republic's swimmers - having competed at last week's National Age Group Championships - were in Malaga for the Spanish Open, which acts as a qualifier for local swimmers for the July 24 to Aug 9 World Championships in Russia.

Featuring the likes of multiple short-course world champion Mireia Belmonte of Spain and double Olympic silver medallist Aleksandra Gerasimenya of Belarus, the four-day meet- which ended yesterday - offered an excellent chance for Lopez's team, which includes rising star Quah Zheng Wen, to gauge themselves against world-class opposition.

Said Lopez: "This is a wake-up call for our guys to see what's expected of them at the highest level. They have to learn to race hard with quick turnarounds between races."

Given the limitations of the domestic scene, such international exposure is a must, said Singapore Sailing Federation coach Dan Smith, who is also in Spain with the Singapore men's and women's 470 dinghy sailors.

They will be in Europe for two months, with regattas in France and Italy lined up and customised training programmes interspersed in between.

These will include boat handling, speed techniques, tactics and decision making, said the Australian coach.

He added: "We are aware of the expected local weather conditions in Singapore during the SEA Games so we do target some of the training here to suit that wind range and are fine-tuning the equipment."

The Republic's sailors are expected to continue their dominance of the biennial Games over the past decade; since 2005, they have brought home 20 golds across four Games.

Said Asian Games gold medallist Savannah Siew, who will compete in the 470 class: "We definitely train at a greater intensity because we sail almost every day.

" We do not have sparring partners for our boat at the moment in Singapore because there is no other 470 pair, so we definitely get better trainings overseas."

Sports which are not the usual gold mines are also making overseas forays in a bid to boost their chances ahead of the Games.

Athletics may not be the gold mine it once was - Singapore bagged 38 golds in the 1960s and 1970s but only 21 since then - but local track and field stars have been hitting top form after overseas competition stints.

National 400m hurdler Dipna Lim-Prasad and high jumper Michelle Sng both broke their own national records earlier this month in Australia and the Philippines respectively and are seen as potential medallists.

US-based marathoner Soh Rui Yong is another prospect. The 23-year-old is spending a month in Flagstaff, Arizona which is almost 7,000 feet (2,133m) above sea level and an ideal base for high-altitude endurance training.

The men's 10,000m national record holder has also been training alongside some American elite runners, including Alexi Pappas and Matt Miner as well as Zambian marathoner Jordan Chipangama, who finished 29th at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

Said Soh, whose expenses of US$1,500 (S$2,054) are being partially funded by Singapore Athletics: "I decided that I was not going to leave this SEA Games to chance. If I wanted to compete against the best, I had to prepare just as well as them."

Meanwhile, the Singapore Canoe Federation is also leaving no stone unturned in its bid to win up to a third of the 17 golds on offer at the Marina Reservoir.

Its 14-men squad are in the midst of a six-week intensive camp in South Africa, a departure from their usual stints in Europe.

Inspiration could be drawn from their breathtaking surroundings and on the water, said kayaker Geraldine Lee.

"We got a chance to train with the South Africans, Hungarians and Slovakian paddlers. These are world-class athletes and training alongside them motivates us to work even harder," she said.

The fine-tuning never ends, noted national shooter Jasmine Ser, who will be going to back-to-back World Cup competitions in South Korea and the United States in the next two months to sharpen her focus after drawing blanks at the last two Games.

The 2007 and 2009 women's air rifle champion said: "This is the period to find out what I need to work on and improve in those areas in time for the SEA Games."

This article was first published on April 1, 2015.
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