Singapore Sports School's promising new student-athletes


She had literally stumbled at the first hurdle in her 80m hurdles heat, but still recovered to finish second in that race.

Later that day at the National Primary Schools Track and Field Championships last year, Yasmeen Marie Lutfi even pulled her hamstring while warming up for the final.

But she still went on claim the bronze medal in the Girls' B Division race, as well as in the long jump.

What was even more amazing about that feat was that she had taken up hurdling only at the end of 2013, having specialised in long and high jumps earlier in her primary school years.

With just a few months of training in the highly-technical event, the 12-year-old won her first-ever hurdles race last February, at the Singapore Sports School-Singapore Athletic Association Primary Schools Invitational Track and Field Meet.

"I was a bit nervous because the other hurdlers all had two or three years of training in the event, whereas I had just started," said the soft-spoken girl, who just started Secondary 1 at the Singapore Sports School (SSP) this week.


"It was a real relief that I won the race but, of course, I was very happy as well to have clocked 13.64 seconds."

She was selected for Temasek's athletics squad after the school's internal trials at the end of her Primary 2 year, and initially did high and long jumps.

But she dropped high jump after Primary 3, after developing a "phobia" for the event which prevented her for executing her jumps properly.

Yasmeen, who also ran for their relay team, then tried hurdling at her school coach's suggestion, and loved it immediately.

"I was already doing relays, so running wasn't awkward for me, it was actually quite fun," said the petite girl, whose active childhood included snorkelling, contemporary dance and camping.

With a Primary School Leaving Examination T-Score of 273, the 1.62m-tall former Temasek Primary School pupil could have her pick of secondary schools, but chose the Woodlands-based institution after attending the pre-admission interview.

Yasmeen said: "(SSP) wasn't really one of my choices.

"But they invited me down for an interview and explained to me how I could manage my timetable to do both studies and sports well, and I got quite excited."

"After the interview, it was an easy decision to make," added the only child of lawyer Lutfi Hussin, 48, and office manager Vanessa Zehnder, 46.

Zehnder, the daughter of renowned local athletics coach Patrick, and a former school hurdler herself, is well aware that the local athletics scene is not as successful as it was in 60s or 70s.

But she and her husband still gave their child their blessings to pursue excellence in the sport.

Zehnder said: "Things change; in my time there was no such thing as a Sports School but, now there is, and they have tie-ups with various organisations.

"If we don't try, we'd never know (how far she can go)."


Football had a high risk of injury, badminton was "tiring", and gymnastics was "boring".

So Koen Pang decided on table tennis as a Co-Curricular Activity when he joined Ngee Ann Primary School, partly also because his elder brother, who is three years older, switched from badminton to ping pong.

While the school was not known for its table tennis programme, Koen (left) initially ranked behind "a few" teammates, but still made it to the Singapore Table Tennis Association's (STTA) Youth Development Squad (YDS) in Primary 3.

"It was quite tough in the first few months, but I started improving after that," said the Singapore Sports School Secondary 1 student, who trained with the YDS up to seven sessions a week on his own accord because he liked the training. The result showed, as Koen started beating his older schoolmates during training.

Last year, he won the Boys' Under-12 categories in the Safra-STTA championships, the Singapore National Games and the Char Yong National Youth Top 10 Tournament.

He also competed in the International Table Tennis Federation World Hopes Week and Challenge in Slovenia last June, when he clinched bronze medals in the Boys' singles and mixed team events.

The pint-sized boy picked up table tennis from his mother Christina, a former school player, at age six at their condominium clubhouse.

"I started out holding the bat in my right hand, but it felt awkward and painful and I switched to my left hand, which I have been using since," said Koen, who writes with his right hand.

He had wanted to join the Woodlands-based school since he was in Primary 4, according to his mother.

"He had to be good if he wanted to go to the Sports School, so my husband and I challenged him to be among the top three players in the YDS. He achieved it after just one month, and stayed there thereafter," said Christina, a freelance interior decorator in her 40s.

When Koen met national paddler Clarence Chew, an SSP alumnus and his hero, at an event last year, he asked the 19-year-old about life on campus.

That also helped him decide on joining the SSP this year.

Christina said: "Both my husband and I believe that if our kids show passion and talent in something, we should support them towards achieving their dreams. It is a blessing for us to know what gift Koen has early."

While he trains with the school's main team now, Koen and his family have been told that he will be training with the STTA-SSP School Within School programme in about three months' time.

Paddlers in this programme train with their respective national teams during the day and attend lessons in the evening, with the longer training sessions aimed at narrowing the paddlers' gaps with international playing standards.

It is a level that Koen eventually aims to be at in the future.

He said: "I hope to join the national team and win medals at the SEA (South-east Asia) and Asian Games."



The St Gabriel's Primary School alumnus was introduced to the sport at age four by his father, who noticed his talent and encouraged him to hone his skills.

With a handicap of 11, Aidil clinched the individual bronze at the National Primary Schools Golf Championships last year.



The former Gongshang Primary School pupil was second at the National Primary Schools Track and Field Championships Boys' B Division 100m and fourth in the 100m hurdles last year.



Reuben won the Boys' B Division 300m and 600m events at the National Primary Schools Track and Field Championships, setting a new meet record of 1min 43.03sec in the 600m. The former Temasek Primary School pupil holds the boys' 600m meet records in all three primary school divisions.

This article was first published on January 10, 2015.
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