Asian Games: No coach, no money, No. 1

It was not meant as defiance, it was not a case where he hoped somebody would read between the lines and get the message.

Justin Wong's first audible words as he got off the J80 keelboat at Wangsan Sailing Marina yesterday were delivered simply, as a matter of fact.

"No coach, no money, No. 1."

His choice of punctuation: an index finger pointing up to the Incheon sky.

Wong, along with Maximilian Soh, Russel Kan, Andrew Paul Chan and Christopher Lim, blew the opposition out of the water to win gold in sailing's open match racing at the Asian Games yesterday, beating hosts South Korea 2-0 in the final.

Japan were third, beating Malaysia 2-0 in the petit final (bronze-medal playoff).

The Singapore team lost only once in all 21 matches raced - in a round-robin tie against the South Koreans - but there was no basking in their near total domination of the field at the Asiad.

Instead, they spoke about the challenges they faced to get there, and the many more that lie ahead.

They had no funding to hire a coach, spent five months in the United States honing their skills at the USA Match Racing Grandslam Series - paid for by donations and a fundraising event - and were not even kitted out by national body SingaporeSailing.

"We understand why - match racing is not an event at the Olympics, and so not their focus. But we're not angry with them, we just have to make the most of what we've got," said Wong.

Prior to the Games, the Singapore men were already taking part in International Sailing Federation-sanctioned match racing events.

They fly the Republic's flag under the name Team Red Dot (TRD) and are currently ranked 26th in the world order.

TARGET

Said Wong: "The aim? To be No. 1 in the world match racing circuit."

But that dream could well be dead in the water already.

"This might be the end. If we don't get funding, we can't do this any more. We'll still try, but we'll just have to see where we go," said team skipper Soh.

"The next event is in Bermuda, but it doesn't make financial sense for us to go. The question for us is how to be financially a bit smarter... but ultimately we'd like to source for a couple of sponsors."

Soh and his crew were sent for trials in France and for a training stint to Hong Kong by SingaporeSailing, but received little else.

"They're still entitled to some funding but, in the long run, it'll never be enough," said SingaporeSailing chief Ben Tan.

According to Tan, the role of the national sports association (NSA) was to be facilitators for TRD, helping match them with corporate sponsors.

"They definitely need funding but, for a healthy funding mechanism, you can't just depend on the Government," added Tan.

"(Unfortunately) for them, the corporate sponsorship market for sports (in Singapore) has not matured, yet."

This gold medal win could well rescue their dream.

As part of the Singapore National Olympic Council Multi-million Dollar Award Programme, the team will receive $320,000 for their gold medal, 20 per cent of which will go to the NSA.

"We hope to use the Asian Games money to fund our future races, starting with Bahrain in December," said Wong.

"(The Asiad win) may have looked easy, but it was definitely not," said Soh.

"At least we showed that we're putting what money SingaporeSailing gave us to good use."

The hope now is that they get the funding to prove that they can be good value on the world stage.


This article was first published on October 2, 2014.

Get The New Paper for more stories.