Divers aim for gold at SEA Games

SINGAPORE - Gold is now the metal of choice for Singapore's divers who are aiming for their first gold medal since 1973 at next year's SEA Games.

As part of a long-term push for excellence, the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) also hopes to have at least one diver at the 2016 Olympics.

This despite the fact that Singapore diving was in the doldrums for almost 30 years after landing a bronze at the 1985 SEA Games.

The breakthrough came last December when Myra Lee, Fong Kay Yian and twin brothers Timothy and Mark Lee returned from the Naypyitaw SEA Games with two silvers and two bronzes.

The quartet's stunning achievements were a major turning point, giving Singapore divers a platform for loftier targets.

Said Damien Ler, sports manager (diving) at theSSA: "We want to slowly chip away at Malaysia's dominance in South-east Asia, and win at least one gold medal at next year's SEA Games.

"We also hope to be able to have one representative at the 2016 Olympics and, in 10 years' time, establish Singapore as a strong diving nation in Asia."

Knocking Malaysia off - or joining them on - their pedestal will be no mean feat. The Malaysians, who swept all the gold medals in Myanmar, boast an Olympic bronze medallist, Pandelela Rinong, in their ranks.

However, Ler is confident the team can reach their lofty targets, given the rapid development he has witnessed since taking on the diving portfolio in 2009.

Certainly, the signs are encouraging. The number of participants in the Learn To Dive programme, a three-month introductory course open to all ages, has grown from 20 in 2009 to 200 this year.

All six divers who went to the 2013 SEA Games graduated from the inaugural programme.

Ler said the national divers' superb showing at the Myanmar SEA Games had reinvigorated interest in the diving scene.

In Naypyitaw, Mark clinched a silver in the 3m springboard as well as a silver and a bronze in the synchronised springboard and platform with brother Timothy.

The women's duo of Myra, 20, and Kay Yian, 17, took thebronze in the synchronised springboard event.

Mark, 19, said: "We tried not to think about the pressure but we know the younger divers look at us for inspiration and we wanted to do well for them.

"The diving scene and national set-up have also become more professional over the years, and with more people taking part, it bodes well for the future."

Said Ler: "The first generation of divers have set a very good example.

"They showed the younger ones that you can win a medal at the SEA Games if you work hard, even in such a short time."

To help the divers achieve their long-term goals, regular training camps, both local and overseas, are being planned in the lead-up to next year's SEA Games and the 2016 Olympics.

In July, the team will embark on a six-week training stint in Guangzhou to prepare for the Asian Games in September.

Regular participation in international competitions, such as the Fina Diving Grand Prix, an annual multi-country event, are also being scheduled.

Mark, a final-year student at Republic Polytechnic, believes the key goals are attainable.

He said: "It all boils down to who keep their composure on the day.

"I think we can do it as long as we keep working hard.

This article was published on April 24 in The Straits Times.

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