Jia Yi on course to make sailing history

SINGAPORE - Young sailor Loh Jia Yi is on course to become Singapore's first male individual winner at the Optimist World Championships.

At Fraglia Vela Riva in Lake Garda, Italy, the 15-year-old Raffles Institution student is leading the race rankings at the halfway point.

After three of six legs, Germany's Nils Sternbeck, 12, is second, followed by the hosts' Dimitri Peroni, 14, in third.

Said Jia Yi, who enjoyed a day's break on Monday before the competition resumes on Tuesday: "I'm staying calm, confident and taking everything in small steps.

"It feels good to lead but nothing is confirmed yet as we are just halfway through and I still have to fight to make history."

Should he succeed in claiming the title, it would be Singapore's third successive win after victories by Kimberly Lim in 2011 and Yukie Yokoyama last year.

Jia Yi's confidence took a huge boost on Sunday as Singapore retained the team title - their third straight - after beating Italy 2-1 in the best-of-three final.

Besides Jia Yi and Edward Tan, 14, who were part of last year's winning squad, the rest of the five-member team - Koh Yi Kun and Fathin Rasyiqin Mohd Firdaus, both 14, as well as Bertha Han, 15 - are first-timers at the event.

Said Raffles Girls' School student Bertha: "Before the competition, I was quite nervous. It's my first time at the world meet."

Jia Yi has helped to lend a calming influence on his team-mates. Said Bertha: "He is one of our leaders and gives us a lot of confidence.

"Before a race, he talks to us, holds our hands and tells us we can do it."

Now with the team title safely in the bag, Bertha has switched her focus to the individual race, where she is the highest-ranked female competitor, in fifth.

Edward sits one spot above.

Said Bertha, who has her sights set on succeeding Yukie as the girls' winner: "I think I can be the girls' champion. There is definitely pressure as Yukie and Kimberly before her did so well. "But I'm doing my best, I'm keeping focused and I've received a lot of encouragement from my family and friends."

She tips Jia Yi to top the overall 259-strong field, noting: "He is already up there. He has been training for this the whole time and, right now, he is the best sailor here."

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