Upstarts threaten supremacy

Upstarts threaten supremacy
Vietnam's three-gold Thi Anh Vien Nguyen (left), Indonesia's two-gold Siman Sudartawa (top right) and Thai breaststroke champion Ketin Nuttapong (bottom right) are swimmers who are tipped for more glory in future SEA Games.

MYANMAR - Singapore's swimmers were once again crowned kings of the pool at the SEA Games.

But their once unrivalled dominance over the rest of South-east Asia is fast diminishing.

While the Myanmar Games served as Joseph Schooling's coronation as the region's swim star with five golds, a host of other young up-and-coming swimmers also announced their arrival in Naypyidaw.

Vietnam's three-gold sensation Thi Anh Vien Nguyen, 16; Indonesia's backstroke specialist and double gold medallist Siman Sudartawa, 18; and Thailand's 200m breaststroke champion Ketin Nuttapong, 20, are among the names that look set to star in future Games.

In fact, the fine showing by Singapore's top rivals should serve as a warning to the swimmers that nothing should be taken granted when the Republic hosts the biennial event in 2015.

Said national swimming head coach Ian Turner: "No doubt that the other nations are improving all the time.

"In two years, we are going to lose if we don't work hard and maintain our position. It's my job to make sure that the next generation is prepared for 2015."

In Myanmar, Singapore still finished fairly comfortably on top of the medal tally, winning 11 golds, nine silvers and 10 bronzes in Naypyidaw.

Second-placed Thailand had a 7-7-8 tally while third-placed Indonesia were at 5-6-4.

But the ratio of gold medals won fell drastically, from 45 per cent in 2011 to 34 per cent this time round. In 2009, Singapore swimmers won 44 per cent of the golds.

Schooling, whose five golds proved the difference in the battle for top spot, also shared Turner's concern that hard work is needed if Singapore is to continue to dominate.

"I think the other countries are catching up with us," said the 18-year- old, who is based in the United States.

"We have lost some events that we were not supposed to lose, like the women's 4x100m freestyle relay where Thailand beat us for gold."

Apart from the relay, Singapore were also upstaged in the women's 200m butterfly, and the men's 50m, 200m, and 1,500m freestyle - events in which Singapore were the defending champions.

Part of the reason is that the other swimmers are seeking more overseas training in top swimming nations.

Thi Anh Vien, who is identified as an Asian Games gold hopeful by her country, was sent to train in the United States before the SEA Games, with Florida's Saint Augustine Swim Team.

Thailand's Natthanan Junkrajang, 27, who beat Singapore's Quah Ting Wen in the 100m and 200m freestyle, has sought the help of both Japanese and Chinese coaches.

Others have simply stepped up their game, driven by a desire to topple champions Singapore.

Said Sudartawa, who took the 100m backstroke gold: "I trained hard for this meet and I will train harder for 2015. I intend to prepare myself to be even mentally tougher in 2015."

Singapore, however, will also have a few surprises of its own in the form of raw diamonds Samantha Yeo, 16, and Darren Lim, 15.

Samantha - through injury - and Darren - defeated by his own nerves - both missed their chance to display their full abilities in Myanmar. But they will be hungry to make their mark in 2015.

Quah, 21, who studies in the US and only this year recovered from a long-standing hand injury, will also be looking to avenge her loss against Junkrajang.

Her brother, Zheng Wen, 17, who lost to Sudartawa twice at the meet, is already itching to renew his rivalry against the Indonesian. He said: "They call him the South-east Asian king of backstroke. Hopefully in 2015, there will be some dethroning going on."

On its home ground two years from now, Singapore is hoping to retain its supremacy in the pool.

The only thing that can be guaranteed, however, is that there will be fireworks.

ugenec@sph.com.sg


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