SINGAPORE - Her biggest rival in the breaststroke at this December's South-east Asia (SEA) Games may have just quit.
But Singapore swimmer Samantha Yeo insists that gold is not assured in Myanmar and pledged to work hard to taste victory.
The Secondary 4 Raffles Girls' School student will represent Singapore in the 100m and 200m breast, 200m individual medley and the relays at the SEA Games, which will take place in Naypyidaw from Dec 11 to 22.
The 16-year-old (right) is a strong contender in the breaststroke events, which had been dominated by Malaysian Siow Yiting in recent years.
The 27-year-old Siow won the 100m and 200m races in the discipline at the past two Games, but quit the national team earlier this week because of her age and a growth in her neck.
With the Malaysian's retirement, Samantha's main rivals for golds in the discipline are Malaysian Christina Loh and Thailand's Chavunnooch Salubluek.
Said Samantha: "It doesn't matter if Yiting is still swimming or if she has retired; I still have to train hard to achieve what I want.
"Having her around doesn't mean that I don't stand a chance at the gold, and her absence does not ensure me the gold, either.
"I cannot let my guard down and must prepare the best I can for the Games."
The teenager is the top-ranked swimmer in South-east Asia in the 50m and 100m breast, and second only to Siow in the 200m event this year.
The 50m event will not be offered in Naypyidaw.
The breaststroke specialist has been steadily improving her timings this year, writing new national Under-17 records in the 100m and 200m events at the National Swimming Championships in June.
Her time of 1min 10.49sec in the 100m was a whisker away from Nicolette Teo's national record of 1:10.15, set at the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand.
Also, Samantha won a gold in the 50m, along with silvers in the 100m and 200m at the Asian Youth Games (AYG) in Nanjing last month.
At the World Championships in Barcelona just before the AYG, Samantha swam against Siow in the 200m event in the heats and was pipped at the end by the Malaysian after leading for much of the race.
Said Samantha's coach, David Lim of Swimfast Aquatic Club: "Sam has shown Yiting that she is a threat this year, with times that were faster than or close to Yiting's personal bests.
"We could see the stress on (Yiting's) face at the World Championships as she was not used to having any breaststroker in South-east Asia coming so close to her.
"We would want to post the best times possible, and my guess is Sam will rewrite some national records at the SEA Games."
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