Gymnastics: Aizat hopes to get a jump on rivals

SINGAPORE - A piece of metal is hardly the most comfortable item to sleep with but, to Aizat Jufrie, it is the object of sweet dreams.

He won the bronze medal on the vault at the Commonwealth Gymnastics Invitational in Glasgow, Scotland last month.

And he hopes his precious souvenir - which he held as he slept, the night before he returned to Singapore - could mark the start of better things to come.

"It was a really big thing for me to win that medal, especially at that level of competition," said the 18-year-old.

Aizat participated in the Invitational, held from April 25-27, to gain experience and was pleasantly surprised by his podium finish.

It was his first medal in a senior overseas competition, having just transitioned from the junior category this year.

"I didn't expect to win the bronze; the competition was just an eye-opener for me," Aizat admitted. "But when I got into the vault final, I realised I had a chance and went for it. It's a surprise and a good bonus for me."

In a show of dedication to his craft, the Raffles Institution Year 6 student is deferring his A-levels to next year.

This, he hopes, will boost his chances of reaching the vault final at the Commonwealth Games in July as well as qualifying for September's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, and next year's SEA Games in Singapore.

"As a student-athlete, studies always come first in Singapore, and it's hard to juggle both at the same time," he said of his decision to put his paper chase on hold temporarily.

The sport also runs in his family - sister Nur Atikah Nabilah, 23, won team gold medals at the 2005 and 2011 SEA Games.

He will be competing alongside 2011 SEA Games pommel horse silver medallist Gabriel Gan, 29, Hoe Wah Toon, 25, Timothy Tay, 21, and Terry Tay, 20, at July's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

It will be the first time that Singapore are sending a men's gymnastics team to the event.

Gan and Hoe competed in the individual events at the 2006 and 2010 Games respectively.

The other three gymnasts competed at the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2011, when Tay won a vault bronze.

David-Jonathan Chan's bronze on the pommel horse in 2010 remains the only medal Singapore men's gymnasts have bagged at the Commonwealth Games.

The team finished fourth in this year's Invitational in the absence of heavyweights Canada and Australia, putting them on track to meet their target of a top-six finish at the Commonwealth Games.

Lee Hong Chuang, vice-president of Singapore Gymnastics, believes that the men are starting to come into their own, after being in the shadow of the women team in recent years. "There's positive growth for the men's artistic gymnastics in Singapore.

"We are definitely progressing on the right path and in the right way," he said.

Aizat, who stands at 1.65m and weighs 65kg, is dreaming that, one day, he will get to compete on the biggest stage of all. "Ultimately, my goal is to enter the Olympics.

"That's every athlete's goal and I'll try my best to eventually represent Singapore at the Olympics."

This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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