WE have the talent to win a medal at the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
That's the confident claim of hockey officials whom The New Paper spoke to at a four-a-side hockey carnival jointly organised by the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) and the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) at the Padang last Saturday.
Their optimism stems from the fact that the one-day tournament, which was part of the World Hockey Youth Challenge, attracted about 100 teams comprising 600 boys and girls from primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges in Singapore.
Hockey is one of 26 sports which will be contested at the inaugural Games held in Singapore from 14 to 26 August, 2010.
The 2010 YOG will host 3,200 of the world's best young athletes aged between 14 and 18.
If all goes well, the Republic's hockey team could finish on the podium.
National coach Mohamed Ali, 50, feels that the skills of our hockey players at the youth level match those from the top hockey nations such as India, Australia and those in Europe.
Last November, he took the Under-12 boys' team from Punggol Primary School on an eight-day training trip to Melbourne where the team played against the top district sides from Down Under.
Punggol Primary emerged champions in last year's inter-school national hockey championships.
The boys won four out of five games against district champion teams from Gypsland, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong and drew one against Warnambool's and District Hockey Association South West Games representative side.
Ali told The New Paper: 'We won four and drew one match. It's a big achievement considering that the Australian kids are ranked among the top three in the world.'
With the YOG only two years away, time may not be on Singapore's side.
But Jude Felix, 43, a former captain of India's national hockey team who now coaches at the SRC, feels that Singapore can still build a strong team in two years with a constructive and intensive training programme.
The Singapore permanent resident said: 'What they need to work on is their stamina. They also need to be exposed to more international competitions.'
SHF president Annabel Pennefather believes that there is a ready pool of talent to tap on for the Youth Olympics, especially with the increased participation among the young ones.
She said: 'A few years ago, there were only about 60 schools which offer hockey as a Co-Curricular Activity.
'Last year, more than 73 schools took part in the inter-school tournaments. Today, I believe there are 80 or more schools which offer hockey. We aim to hit 100 schools by 2013.
'A number of schools, such as Punggol Primary School, have made hockey one of their niche sports and have been producing a lot of new talent. Northland Secondary School also has a good hockey programme.'
Commenting on the chances of winning a medal at the YOG, Pennefather said: 'We have talent, but we have to realise that the YOG is just around the corner in two years' time.
'We can't expect too much of them. But we can get them to reach a competitive level where they will be able to put up a good show.'
At the hockey carnival last week, Felix singled out some Under-15 players who have the potential to represent Singapore at the YOG.
Rhys Wong, 14, from St Nicholas Girls' School, is one of them.
The Secondary 2 student trains with her school team three times a week.
She said: 'If I get selected to represent Singapore at the YOG, I will go for training even if it's seven times a week. I will learn to juggle my time.'
Nur Ashriq, 15, who is with the national youth team, said: 'I'm very excited about the YOG. I'm prepared to give up anything to take part in it.
'I believe if we train hard enough, we can win a medal.'