Li and Yip handed a boost

SINGAPORE - One is a paddler who is looking to break into the world's top 100 and to win a medal at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here next year.

The other is a para-swimmer who is aiming for a medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Both Isabelle Li and Yip Pin Xiu will receive help as they strive to meet their goals.

They were among 18 new recipients of the Sports Excellence Scholarship yesterday at the Singapore Sports Hub's Black Box Auditorium.

The new scholars hail from nine sports - badminton, bowling, canoeing, cycling, disability sports, gymnastics, sailing, swimming and table tennis - and were chosen from 41 shortlisted candidates across 14 sports.

Said Li, 20: "I started training full-time after graduating from polytechnic earlier this year and that really helped me to improve my game a lot.

"I had more opportunities to compete overseas and to hang out with my teammates, and it was at such informal sessions where I learnt a lot from them on various aspects such as strategies during the game."

"I hope to break into the top 100, that will be a starting point for me and it would be a privilege to take part in the SEA Games here next year and to win a medal," she added.

Despite winning a silver medal in the S3 50m backstroke at the world championships in Montreal last year, Yip, 23, did not consider applying for the scholarship in its inaugural year in 2013 because she was still trying to balance her training and her undergraduate studies at the Singapore Management University.

Asked what prompted her to change her mind this time, she said: "I am not that young any more and I want to seize the moment and do it while I am still at my peak."

Yip, along with para-shuttler Tay Wei Ming, are in the highest of the four tiers of the scholarship programme, and will receive the most funding in terms of monthly stipends and expenses for training and competition, sports science and medicine, equipment and coaching.

A top-tier athlete - classified as being in the world's top eight - will receive between $3,000 and $8,400 in stipends a month.

Asian Games gold medallist Joseph Schooling has been elevated to the top tier after the swimmer's exploits in Incheon, South Korea, joining the likes of table tennis star Feng Tianwei and silat exponent Shakir Juanda in the 13-strong elite group.

Six athletes have had their scholarships renewed after their one-year deals were up, while another seven will leave the programme after their one-year scholarships end this month.

Gymnast Joey Tam has been offered an extension to her scholarship, but declined as she has decided to retire from competitive sport.

With the various movements, the spexScholarship programme is now 71 strong, with 160 nominations across 21 sports received this year.

And the Singapore Sports Institute's chief of high performance sports, Richard Gordon, expects the number of nominations to increase when they start the application process after the SEA Games next June.

He said:"We think there will be some fabulous performances at the SEA Games that will be genuinely world class and there will be many people knocking on the door and saying that they are deserving of the scholarship."

This article was first published on December 3, 2014.
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