Dragon boat racers aim for medals

They may be younger and less experienced than their regional rivals. But Singapore's dragon boat teams are gunning for podium finishes alongside heavyweights Indonesia and Thailand at this weekend's DBS Marina Regatta.

The men's team have an average age of just 25, and only half of them have represented Singapore at previous regattas. In comparison, Indonesia traditionally field veteran paddlers in their 30s.

The women's team, which includes six members from last year's SEA Games bronze medal crew, are even younger. Most of the paddlers are in their early 20s.

Veterans such as Jerry Tan, 31, and Titus Hong, 28, will be anchoring the newer additions to the men's team.

"Having these major Games under your belt, you're well-prepared, you know what is expected of the race," said Tan, who competed at the 2011 and 2013 SEA Games, as well as the two previous regattas in 2012 and 2013.

In preparation for this weekend's 200m and 500m races, the 22crew members of the men's team have been undergoing intensive training since January.

They currently train in the mornings and evenings thrice weekly, and engage in full-day sessions on the weekends.

Despite their inexperience, the men's team are hoping to repeat their silver medal finish of the inagural DBS Marina Regatta in 2012, where they won in the absence of top countries Myanmar and Thailand.

However, this year's regatta will be a tougher contest, with SEA Games gold medallists Thailand and Indonesia sending two national teams each.

Said Tan: "A bronze would be a good showing, for the new crew. Once we have a good performance here, it's easier to build on to the bigger Games."

The men's coach, Bryan Kieu, is hoping that the home ground advantage will play a part as well.

"During (this weekend's regatta), other countries won't be as well-trained as they'll be for the SEA Games, and they're not so familiar with our boats and our waters," explained Kieu.

The women are targeting a medal in the shorter 200m race.

"We do not have as much time to train as the other countries, whose paddlers are all full-time athletes," said women's coach Tan Wee Jin."

"As the distance gets longer, the emphasis on fitness and endurance is greater."

They are currently adjusting paddling techniques to boost performance, despite their smaller frames.

Paddler Joyce Wee, 21, feels that composure will be key to their race strategy.

"There'll definitely be pressure, so we have to stay composed and execute what we are supposed to," she said.

Coach Tan predicts the 200m races will be hotly contested across all eight categories.

"The gaps between competitors are going to be one foot, one dragon head; and that's about it. It's going to be very, very close."

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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