Singapore's sprinters aim to dethrone South-east Asia's 100m sprint king

Singapore's sprinters aim to dethrone South-east Asia's 100m sprint king

Thai 21-year-old Jirapong Meenapra twice clocked a personal best of 10.31sec in the men's 100m last year.

He is the reigning South-east Asia (SEA) Games 100m and 200m champion and is already a hot favourite for this year's event.

Singapore will host the 28th SEA Games this June - for the first time in 22 years - and as in all multi-sport events, track and field will take centrestage, with the men's 100m the most coveted gold medal of them all.

While improbable, the host nation can dream, that one of their gunslingers can pull off a remarkable upset and rock the new National Stadium, along with the rest of the country, by winning gold.

Amirudin Jamal, who finished third at the 2013 Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, is the only Singaporean to have met the qualifying mark of 10.55s - clocked at a UniMAP meet in Perlis, Malaysia, two months ago.

Each nation has two berths for the event and Gary Yeo, silver medallist from the 2011 SEA Games and who owns a personal best of 10.44, is the favourite to join Amirudin in the team.

CLIMAX

Speaking to The New Paper recently, 27-year-old Amirudin, said: "I view the coming SEA Games as a culmination of all the training I've done over the last two-and-a-half years.

"All that preparation is for me to do well here."

Amirudin, whose personal best is 10.46, revealed that Singapore's sprinters were all aware of what Thai speed demon Jirapong is doing.

The last time Singapore won the men's century sprint at the Games was in 1969 in Rangoon when C Kunalan crossed the finish line in 10.5.

Kunalan's national record of 10.38 stood for 33 years, until UK Shyam broke it in 2001, twice clocking 10.37 that season.

It puts the task of winning gold this year in perspective, but Amirudin still holds out hope that Jirapong can be dethroned in Kallang.

"Yes, at the moment, he seems to be clearly ahead and leading the way," said the Singapore sprinter.

"But in our event, anything can happen on race day.

It's a matter of split-seconds and details.

"If, for some reason he's not 100 per cent or makes a mistake, we have to be ready to take advantage of it."

The final event to qualify for this year's Games will be the Singapore Open at the end of March.

Both Yeo and Amirudin are heavily backed to get the nod for Team Singapore, and Calvin Kang is the outsider, with a personal best of 10.52.

All three predict the atmosphere at the stadium during the SEA Games could inspire the home runners to special feats.

"All of us (sprinters) grew up here," said 24-year-old Kang.

"To race at the National Stadium, especially with our fans, friends and family there, would be an unbelievable experience.

"It's a dream to have a big meet like the SEA Games in Singapore.

"Hopefully, in this good stadium, on a good Mondo track, with home support as a bonus, we can do well."

DREAM

The former Singapore Sports School star believes any Singaporean sprinter dreaming of success at this year's Games has to go faster than the national record.

"For all of us, the national record is the target," said Kang.

"We know to win the gold in June, we probably have to run a 10.3.

Even at the ASEAN University Games in December, where I ran, there were two Malaysians who ran 10.5.

So everybody around the region is getting serious."

For another hopeful, it's now or nothing.

Yeo's silver in 2011 was Singapore's first medal in the event since Shyam's second-placed finish in 2001.

Yeo, who turns 29 in August, does not see himself running too much longer, and wants to sign off with a bang.

"I think it'll be my last SEA Games so I'm putting everything I've got into it," he told TNP.

"I didn't have the best 2013 or 2014, so I want to put everything behind me and end on a high.

I'm banking everything on this SEA Games."

While home support is important, he hopes the Singapore Athletic Association and the various sports bodies pull out all the stops to make sure the Republic's athletes get all the support they need in the next few months.

"Of course home support is a factor for all of us, but I think in our event, preparation is the most important thing," said Yeo.

"But yes, every local athlete wants to sing the national anthem at on home soil at the SEA Games. So I'm sure it will be an extra push for everyone."

STOP THE SPEEDSTER

Thailand's Jirapong Meenapra posted four of the five best 100m times by a South-east Asian sprinter last year.

Will his form continue in June's SEA Games?

1. Jirapong Meenapra (Thai) 10.31 (Aug 9 in Andorf, Austria)

1. Jirapong Meenapra (Thai) 10.31 (Dec 11 in Nakhonrat, Thailand)

3. Jirapong Meenapra (Thai) 10.36 (Aug 9 in Andorf, Austria)

4. Sowan Ruttanapon (Thai) 10.41 (Aug 9 in Andorf, Austria)

5. Jirapong Meenapra (Thai) 10.45 (Aug 27 in Incheon, South Korea)

Mon, Jan 26 2015: SHANTI AND DIPNA CHASE MEDALS, WHILE JANNAH AIMS TO MAKE HER SEA GAMES DEBUT ON HOME SOIL

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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