Synchronised swimmers pull out the stops in a bid to sweep all five events

On the two occasions synchronised swimming has featured at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games, Singapore returned home without gold in the bag.

But that statistic has not stopped this year's team from targeting all five gold medals on offer at the OCBC Aquatic Centre next month.

Singapore will host the biennial SEA Games for the first time in 22 years from June 5 to 16, and much of the focus will be on the powerful swimming team, who are expected to dominate at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

But the synchronised swimmers also want some of the limelight and, speaking to The New Paper recently, a bullish national coach Maryna Tsimashenka said: "The Malaysians say they want only the duet golds, but we want to win all the golds.

"It is the attitude that all athletes should have - to aim to win."

The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) - which oversees synchronised swimming - has spared no effort in trying to achieve the ambitious goal.

While the team prepared for a year in the lead-up to the 2011 event - the last time synchronised swimming was offered at the Games - preparations began much earlier this time around.

A 15-strong training squad were formed in February last year and it was cut down to 12.

Training hours were eventually doubled to around 40 hours a week, with three centralised training camps already held.

While the swimmers have previously bought their own costumes, which cost about $400 each, the SSA is footing the bill for this Games.

Besides the pool sessions, other training components like dancing, acrobatics and psychology have been ramped up, as the team get ready for their drive for gold.

The swimmers also successfully sought permission from their respective schools to be taken off lessons completely this month to prepare for the Games, according to SSA's acting vice-president (synchronised swimming), Tay Chin Joo.

"We met with the swimmers and their parents at the beginning and told them what was expected if they were selected," she said.

"We warned them that no one could go for any holidays after October last year until after the SEA Games, and they accepted it."


Two swimmers - Stephanie Chen and Crystal Yap - even deferred their studies completely for a year to focus on the SEA Games.

Crystal, 19, was supposed to take her 'A' levels at Tampines Junior College last year, but postponed them till the end of this year, while Stephanie, 20, has delayed starting her university education for a year after completing her studies at Nanyang Junior College.

While Stephanie says she had long intended to train full-time, it wasn't as straightforward for Crystal, her duet partner of six years.

Said Crystal: "I was halfway through revising for my 'A' levels when the idea (of full-time training) came about in July. Part of me wanted to get the exams over and done with, but it also made sense to defer them to keep training.

"I spoke to my teachers and parents and they gave me their blessings."

The team train under the watchful eyes of Tsimashenka and her assistant Katsiaryna Kulpo practically every day, and have competed in meets like the French Open, the Japan Open and the South-east Asian Swimming Championships here last year, where they won four golds, compared to regional favourites Malaysia, who only won one.

Captain Stephanie said: "Malaysia have been the powerhouses (in this region) for a long time, but we beat them here last year.

"We know we cannot be complacent even with those results, but it motivates us to train harder to beat them again at the SEA Games this year.

"It will be an honour to win our (discipline's) first SEA Games gold medal on home ground."

The Malaysians say they want only the duet golds, but we want to win all the golds. It is the attitude that all athletes should have - to aim to win.

- National coach Maryna Tsimashenka


When: June 2 to 4

Where: OCBC Aquatic Centre, Singapore Sports Hub (ticketed)

Gold medals on offer: 5

Historical medal haul: 3 silvers, 1 bronze

Did you know:

This is only the third time synchronised swimming will be offered at the SEA Games. It made its debut in 2001 in Malaysia and last featured in Indonesia in 2011.

Malaysia have won all seven gold medals in the aquatic discipline over the two SEA Games.

The team:

Lee Mei Shuang, Natalie Chen, Gwyneth Goh, Crystal Yap, Debbie Soh, Stephanie Chen, Geraldine Chew, Shona Lim, Miya Yong, Tay Aik Fen, Carolyn Rayna Buckle, Nadine Khor

TNP's prediction:

It is a sport that Malaysia have dominated for years, although Singapore won four golds to Malaysia's one at the South-east Asian Swimming Championships here last year.Sweeping all five golds could be a tad ambitious, but the team should be good for three golds.

This article was first published on May 8, 2015.
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