Athletics: 5.55m...'my boys can do it'

SINGAPORE - He trains two young pole vaulters who have been making headlines over the last few months with their tussle to set new national records.

Both Sean Lim and Chan Sheng Yao have raised the excitement level in Singapore track and field but the pair, along with coach David Yeo, have had to get used to hearing snide remarks after every new mark set.

When 20-year-old Lim broke the men's national record with a 4.90m effort last month, a few snipers on social media pointed to the gulf in standard between Singapore's pole vault men and those at international level - the world record is 6.16m.

Some even mocked the achievement, congratulating Lim for doing enough to win a medal in the women's event at the Olympics.

Yeo takes it all in his stride.

He has high hopes for Lim and 18-year-old Chan.

Lim made history on Monday when he became the first Singaporean to go above 5ms, setting a new national record of 5.01m at the Track and Field Series at Bukit Gombak Stadium.

He broke Chan's record of 4.91m, set one week after his 4.90m effort.

Earlier in the week, The New Paper visited Yeo at one of his training sessions at Hwa Chong Institution and found out that the coach believes he is on course to fulfilling a dream.

"When I started coaching pole vault 15 years ago, I wanted to have an athlete reach the Olympics," Yeo said, as he kept a watchful eye on his two prodigies.

"I think Sean and Sheng Yao can be the ones."

The qualifying mark for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is 5.55m - 54cm higher than Lim's new national record.

Yeo says the two Singaporeans have the talent to reach the mark, which also make them South-east Asia's (SEA) top jumpers.

Said the coach: "After the amount of time I've studied the event inside-out and how it works mechanically, I think they can do it."

Pointing at 1.76m-tall Frenchman Renaud Lavillanie, who broke 1.88m-tall Sergey Bubka's 20-year-old world record with a new mark of 6.16m last year, Yeo feels vindicated, after arguing for some time that small jumpers can scale great heights.


He broke it down to two key factors - the clearance above grip and grip height.

Clearance above grip refers to the distance between a jumper's grip on the pole and the bar he clears. Grip height refers to the distance from the ground to the jumper's grip.

Of course, learning to grip the pole higher is a difficult skill.

Chan, who relies on speed, is already adept at gripping a 15.5-foot pole, while Lim relies on technique to get a good clearance above grip height.

Yeo quipped: "I always say if we can merge the two of them into one athlete, we'd already have someone at the Olympics."

There is another reason for Yeo's optimism about the potential of his two young talents: their healthy rivalry.

Since Lim first broke Mok Hay Foo's 18-year national record in June 2011, the two have taken turns to rewrite the mark (see graphic).

Lim and Chan have trained together since 2006, when they were both students at Hwa Chong.

Said Lim: "Having this kind of rivalry with a teammate spices things up.

"If you're alone, it's hard to push yourself. But if there's someone of a similar standard to you, you can... it's good, friendly competition.

"Even through we're competing against each other, we both want each other to do well.

"So when we give feedback, we're very open and don't hold back."

Added Chan: "I respect him as he is my senior, but I want to beat him in every competition.

"But it's not just about beating him, it's about the heights we reach and we just want to keep getting higher.

"One of our targets is to push the national record to Asian level and after that, hopefully, even further."

The teenager is looking forward to the SEA Games next year, when he hopes his rivalry with Lim - together with home support - can propel the Singaporeans to finish among the medals.

At last December's SEA Games in Myanmar, Lim finished joint-fifth after posting a best effort of 4.80m, while Chan came in eighth (4.60m).

"Every sport, every athletics event, seems to be gearing towards next year's SEA Games and it'll be great to test ourselves in front of a home crowd," Chan added.

Yeo predicts a tough test next year.

"I think 5m will get you only 5th spot next year," he said.

"But these two are the type of jumpers who, when you give them support, take it positively and get hyped up to do well.

"The home support can fire them up."


Name: Sean Lim
Born: July 5, 1993
Height: 1.72m
Weight: 61kg
Favourite food: Chicken rice
Idol: Renaud Lavillenie

Name: Chan Sheng Yao
Born: March 16, 1996
Height: 1.76m
Weight: 64kg
Favourite food: Chicken rice
Idol: Renaud Lavillenie

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