Hamstrung by injury

National 4x100m relay runners (from left) Gary Yeo, Calvin Kang, Lee Chong Wei, Muhd Amiruddin Jamal and Muhd Elfi Mustapa

SINGAPORE - The national men's 4x100m relay team have conceded that their hopes of making next month's World Championships in Moscow are as good as gone.

They have one last shot at meeting the 39.20sec qualifying mark today at the ongoing World University Games (WUG) in Kazan in Russia - but have been dealt a crushing injury blow.

During last week's Asian Athletics Championships in India, South-east Asia Games 100m silver medallist Gary Yeo pulled up with a hamstring injury while the Singapore team were leading the race, ahead of teams like China and Taiwan.

"The first thing I thought of was what did I do, or not do, to lead to the injury," said Yeo, 27, who represented Singapore in the 100m sprint at the London Olympics last year.

"I knew then that I probably could not run at the WUG and our chances of qualifying for the World Championships look bleak since Elfi was not going to the WUG with us."

Team member Muhammad Elfi Mustapa is not enrolled in a university and thus not eligible to compete in the WUG. Yeo will be replaced by Lim Yao Peng in Kazan.

But having lost their fastest runner and with 0.25 still to shave off their best time of 39.45, the squad are no longer hopeful of qualifying for the Moscow World Championships.

They had set their sights on becoming the Republic's first relay team to make the World Championships, and had also put aside studies and work to train full-time from the beginning of the year.

The move had started to bear fruit. In May, they set a new national record while competing at the Asian Grand Prix in Chonburi in Thailand, rewriting the 2012 mark of 39.58 to 39.45.

That put them ahead of China (39.79) and South-east Asian rivals Thailand (39.83), and the world championships' qualifying mark appeared to be within touching distance.

Said Yeo: "Everyone was starting to look fast and sharp in training, and we could feel that it is within reach."

The injury blow, however, has not deflated the team. They are ready to move on to their next target - a gold at this December's SEA Games in Myanmar.

Said Yeo: "I wouldn't see this as a setback. Injuries happen and for one to happen at such a crucial stage, we can learn from it and come back stronger. Our main target is still a gold at the SEA Games this year. Right now, each individual will focus on improving on their individual speed for us to go even faster."

Singapore Athletic Association vice-president and interim chief of sports development Loh Chan Pew is certain of an historic gold at the biennial Games, after the relay team settled for a silver in Indonesia two years ago.

Said Loh, himself a former national sprinter: "They still have a very good chance of winning gold at the SEA Games. They just need to concentrate and plan for a solid next few months (of training). I'm very confident."

maychen@sph.com.sg

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