No golds, but silver lining for rowers

With no gold medals from their SEA Games campaign, many would say Singapore's 24-strong rowing squad failed to deliver on home soil.

There were 18 golds on offer in the four-day rowing programme at Marina Channel and, even Sayidah Aisyah Rafa'ee, gold medallist in the women's lightweight single sculls 2,000m event at the last Games in 2013 in Myanmar, could bag only two bronze medals - she did not try to defend her title but raced in two other events.

The hosts' rowing haul of three bronze and one silver was well short of what powerhouses Indonesia and Vietnam took home - each featured a haul of eight golds.

But, four Singapore men would have had a small celebration after writing a little history yesterday.

The lightweight four (1,000m) of Syahir Ezekiel Rafa'ee, Pek Hong Kiat, Lee Zong Han and Nadzrie Hyckell Hamzah won Singapore's first-ever SEA Games men's silver medal in rowing yesterday.

They clocked three minutes and 5.25 seconds to finish 2.97 seconds behind champions Indonesia. Vietnam were third (3:06.60).

The other Singaporean podium finishers yesterday were Joanna Chan and Joan Poh, who won bronze in the women's pairs.

Syahir, 24, who is also Aisyah's younger brother, told the New Paper: "At the beginning, one of my teammates caught a very bad stroke and that put us in the last place. "But we were trained very hard to continue to push through despite obstacles during the race. We recovered well.

"In the second half of the race, we really fought the battle. All of us were so hungry for the win and we just went on till the end of the race."

For Aisyah, though, it was very much a case of what might have been.

Eyebrows were raised when the 27-year-old could muster only a bronze in her first event last Thursday.

And yesterday, she had to settle for the same medal, in the 1,000m race, finishing 0.08sec behind Indonesia's Maryam Makdalena Daimoi, who clocked 3:58.93.

The gold went to Phuttharaksa Neegree of Thailand.

The Singaporean, though, preferred to focus on the positives.

"Near the end of the race, when I looked across the lanes and I saw the Indonesian girl (Maryam) slowing down, I tried my best to catch up with her," she said.

"I pushed really hard and I think it was like 0.10sec difference, so yeah I'm quite pleased. I've never pushed that hard before. I couldn't stand after that, and it was such a good feeling to be racing on home ground with the country behind your back.

"It was so close, as my coach always reminds me, when you get out of the boat, make sure you leave with no regrets.

"And I definitely have no regrets. That was one of the best races I've ever done."

Similarly pleased was Singapore Rowing Association president Nicholas Ee.

"I'm impressed with the showing at this Games and it really bodes well for the future," he said.

"A big 'thank you' goes to Singsoc (Singapore South-east Asia Games Organising Committee) for having faith in the sport.

"Two years ago, in Myanmar, Aisyah was the only athlete that we could afford to send. But now we have a full team of participants.

"And that is exactly what we need, because continued interest and participation is what's going to guarantee sustained success."

This article was first published on June 15, 2015.
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