Singapore teens sweep regatta

BAHRAIN - Singapore's young sailors have reinforced their international dominance at the IODA Asian Optimist Championships.

The Bahrain event, which attracted 132 participants from 22 countries, began on March 26 and concluded yesterday.

Lu Junrui, 14, was crowned overall Asian champion despite finishing second as first-placed Rasim Yassar is Turkish and therefore ineligible for an Asian title.

Singapore sailors have won this title every year since 2010.

A third-place finish by 15-year-old Phua Shyn Ee - the boys and girls compete together - also ensured that Singapore retained the girls' title.

"It felt amazing (to win) as this was my first IODA event and the level of competition was high. Initially, I was very nervous but, overall, it was a good learning experience for me," said Junrui.

The Secondary 2 student from Raffles Institution fought his way back from sixth place before the last day of races to finish second.

He added: "I was motivated to do well for this regatta. I think focus and the never-give-up spirit were very important.

"My coaches also gave me the encouragement and confidence that I was able to do it."

Junrui's crown came as consolation for Singapore's loss of the team title to China. Singapore's two teams finished second and fourth while last year's competitors ended up first and second.

"Last year in Japan, we team-raced in lighter wind conditions. This year, conditions were slightly different but we gave our best to make it to the finals," said Samuel Neo, 15, who captained the runners-up.

"For (Koh) Yi Nian and Junrui, it was their first team racing event so it was a good exposure for the team as a whole."

Wind conditions in Bahrain fluctuated throughout the event, with strong winds of 15-20 knots on the third day of racing.

With five races to go, this proved the turning point for the Republic's sailors, who took advantage of their training in tough conditions.

The final day brought lighter winds reminiscent of local conditions, as Shyn Ee sailed her way to third place from fifth.

Half of the championship's top-10 finishers hailed from Singapore, with Yi Nian, Samuel and Ryan Kwok in fifth, sixth and seventh places respectively.

The optimistic outlook generated by the performance of this relatively new squad bodes well for the sailors' quest to defend Singapore's three titles in the World Optimist Championships in Argentina in October.

This article was published on April 7 in The Straits Times.

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