Youth champions eye the big stage

Youth champions eye the big stage
Bernie with his mother Engeline Chin and Samantha with her father Michael Yom. Both highlight the passion and dedication needed to excel in sport amid a hectic school life and training schedule.

Seated in a Killiney Road restaurant, teenagers Samantha Yom and Bernie Chin wore nervous smiles as adults more than double their age lavished them with praise.

The 15-year-old sailors are not known to be shy. But then again, it is not everyday that a pair of teens have a lunch thrown in honour of a historic double gold at the Youth Olympic Games.

Even in a sport which is used to its fair share of youth world champions - in the Optimist and 420 classes - Samantha and Bernie's wins in the men's and women's Byte CII competition at the Nanjing Youth Olympics last month stand out.

Not just because they are the first Singaporeans to win a Youth Olympic gold, but more so because the pair represent the best of a new generation of sailors who may be better equipped to continue their success at the senior level.

The pair are more than aware of the inability of the nation's top youth sailors to also win in international senior competition such as the Sailing World Championships and the Olympics.

And while it may still be early days to say if either can end that barren run, they are at least committed to giving it their best shot.

"It may not be the 2016 Olympics, I may have to wait for the 2020 Games but it'll be a dream for me to be able to represent Singapore at the Olympics," said Bernie who is aiming to make the transition to the Laser Standard class in the next few years.

Both Bernie and Samantha paid tribute to the help they get from both their parents and SingaporeSailing for their early success and reiterate that such support will be crucial to their development - after all they know full well the attrition problem facing Singapore sailors.

Said Raffles Girls School student Samantha, 15: "In Singapore, the education system is probably not conducive for sailors.

"For instance, the A-level examinations in junior college comes at a time when many sailors make the transition up to an adult class.

"Faced with having to juggle a hectic education syllabus and training schedule out at sea, some chose to give up the sport and just like that, good talents are lost."

Added Raffles Institution student Bernie, also 15: "With an Olympic qualifying campaign usually taking about three years, some sailors may feel it is a waste of time if they go through all that and still fail to make it to the Olympics."

The lost of young sailors to studies was also an issue picked out in 2011 by the federation's 15-member Olympic Pathway Taskforce which included two Olympic champions in Ukrainians Evgeny Braslavets and Igor Mativienko.

To combat that, SingaporeSailing has targeted what they see as the root of the problem - cultivating a strong passion for the sport among budding sailors who are just starting out by emphasising the importance of enjoyment over results at the young age.

At the same time, the association is also working with nations like Italy, Finland and Japan to give their sailors a higher level of sparring partners and access to the different conditions that the Singapore seas cannot offer.

Samantha is one such example of how passion can keep hold of talent within sailing. The top girl in her Primary 5 age group, she lost the spot to someone else, and with that a place in the national Optimist training squad.

In Secondary 1, she finished 10th at the Asian Sailing Championships.

Despite her initial failings, she persevered because of her passion for the sport, which has now given her a Youth Olympic gold medal.

"You cannot let one setback stop you from doing what you love," she said. After those setbacks, I never gave up, constantly telling myself that I can still get better and the opportunities will come, which it did."

Added Samantha's father, 47-year-old IT manager Michael Yom: "She picks herself up after each setback or defeat, and soldiers on.

That passion and determination is what will keep sailors going in a sport that has a tough training schedule alongside a hectic load of schoolwork.

Bernie's mother, 44-year-old homemaker Engeline Chin, echoed Yom's view.

"Sailing is not an easy sport so passion is what will keep them motivated even through tough times like missing out on the top ranking spots or even a place in a major competition.

"Without it, sailors can't last in the sport, which is why it's necessary to ensure sailors have this in them from young."

terong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 14, 2014.
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