Singapore's top local shot put thrower will leave for the United States this morning, but there is unlikely to be much fanfare surrounding his departure.
After all, Wong Kai Yuen did not win a medal at June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil.
Plagued by a niggling knee injury, he posted a 15.16m effort, well short of his 16.24m (7.26kg shot) personal best, finishing fifth among six throwers.
Wong, who went under the knife right after the SEA Games to fix his knee, will begin his post-tertiary studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) later this month.
The 21-year-old applied to join the school early last year, was accepted in April, but deferred a year because he was still in National Service.
Now, he will train with some of the most talented young athletes in the country under coach John Frazier, who has guided four NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) champions.
Said Wong: "I chose to apply for UCLA because they're good in both academics and sports.
"Stanford, for example, is a good school but their throws programme is quite iffy."
The heavy metal-loving Wong is trying to secure a scholarship at UCLA, which he hopes to ink soon after arriving.
He estimates that his studies in the US will cost around US$50,000 ($71,200) a year, a sum he hopes will be significantly reduced with the scholarship.
James Wong, the 10-time SEA Games champion and former discus king of the region, has high hopes for his UCLA-bound namesake.
"He's in the same shoes as I was in the past," said the 46-year-old, who spent four years studying in the US from 1993.
"Right now for him, education has to be the No. 1 priority, and it's good for him that UCLA is a good school, and also has a good, structured programme for athletics, as well as a historical track record for good throwers.
"Kai Yuen is still young and training and mixing with better throwers, learning from them, will help him."
Along with sprinter Veronica Shanti Pereira, Wong was one of two Singapore athletes to win bronze at the 2012 Asian Juniors in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a 17.29m effort (6kg shot put).
His effort of 18.22m (6kg) at a Track and Field Series Seven meet at Bukit Gombak Stadium in Nov 2013 is also still the Under-20 South-east Asian shot put record.
He threw his personal best of 16.24m (7.26kg) at last year's Vietnam Open.
James urged Singapore Athletics (SA) to support the youngster to ensure he realises his potential.
"I think he's capable of breaking Dong Enxin's national record (of 17.44m), and maybe even win the SEA Games gold one day," he said.
"But it will take time for him to adjust. You're not just there to throw, you're there to also study.
"There will be a lot of changes going on in your life at one go.
"Ultimately, SA must look into his welfare and development while he's there, and support him wherever they can."
The younger Wong believes he will improve significantly down the road.
"The national record is one of my targets, for sure," he said.
"If everything goes to plan, I think the 2017 SEA Games gold is also something I can aim for.
"Then qualifying for the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, and seeing how far I can go.
"I just want to keep getting better."
Name: Wong Kai Yuen
Date of Birth: June 17, 1994
Personal Best: 16.24m (7.26kg shot, 2014 Vietnam Open)
Career Highlights: 2012 Asian Juniors Bronze (17.29m, 6kg);
South-east Asian Under-20 record (18.22m, 6kg, at Track and Field Series Seven meet in Nov 2013);
Singapore U-18, U-20, U-21 record
This article was first published on Sept 8, 2015.
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