Team Sync-gapore win

An undercurrent of expectancy hummed through the packed stands, with all eyes on the eight swimmers who had their hearts set on winning Singapore's first synchronised swimming gold.

Loud cheers lapsed into a hushed silence as the girls struck their final pose on the deck.

Then, as swiftly as silence fell upon the OCBC Aquatic Centre, a man leapt up with a single rallying cry: "Go Singapore!"

The crowd would find its voice once more for a final cheer before the swimmers dived into the pool, where the vocal support would be muted against the steady beat of the music and the bubbling of the water.

The swimmers would carry the hopes of the thousand people in the stands, every voice joining them as they twisted, leapt and spun into the water.

"It was the first time in all our routines that we could actually feel the crowd," said captain Stephanie Chen, 19.

"It makes us want to do more, it's like the energy regenerates in us."

The swimmers had built up a commanding lead the night before, with the 1.99 points a beacon of hope for a team long in the shadow of regional powerhouses Malaysia.

However, anything could happen on the day of competition and the team's excitement was naturally tinged with the uncertainty of a subjectively-judged event, and fear that Malaysia could catch up.

But those fears were cast aside the moment fingers touched the cool water, minds centred only on delivering their very best.

True to Crystal Yap's promise of a fanciful performance the night before, Singapore's team free routine conjured up images of a battle, performed to the strident strumming of a Chinese zither.

It would turn out to be their best performance yet, with national coach Maryna Tsunashenka commending them on a flawless opening, as the girls back-flipped and linked arms to mimic a slithering snake.

It was a nail-biting three minutes as their faces disappeared underwater for long stretches at a time in the punishing routine that left spectators holding their breaths in sync.

The performance would falter towards the end, with a swimmer miscounting for a brief moment.

There was no time to think, except for her to fall back in place in harmony with her team.

That moment proved to be minor in the grand scheme of things as 76.5000 points awaited them, adding to their total score to reach 150.8445 points.

"They had a good performance - the start was very good but they had a little mistake," said Tsimashenka.

Yet, confirmation would come only 10 minutes later, after main rivals Malaysia had completed their routine. The scoreboard flashed 146.5204, signalling the end of Malaysia's reign.

The crowd roared its approval upon confirmation of Singapore's first synchro swimming gold.

For proud father, former top swimmer Tay Khoon Hean, 50, whose voice had rallied the crowd, the win was sweet reward for their dedication - daughter Aik Fen is part of a 12-strong squad - over the past year.

"I haven't seen my daughter for three weeks but their confidence level will be much higher after this win," he said.

The triumph is a first step towards achieving their Olympic dream - that had begun with the first SEA Games team in 2011.

"It's refreshing to see the young ones going up, and knowing that the standard has improved," said former national captain Mei Shan Krishnan, who has watched all the events so far.

Despite the first gold medal for Singapore being in their hands for barely 15 minutes, the swimmers are already looking ahead for the next big moment.

"We're hoping to bring back more medals so we just have to focus and do our best," said Chen, who will compete in the duet with Yap. They face a tough fight against Malaysia's Katrina Abdul Hadi and Lee Yhing Huey.

The team will go for a second gold in the free combination event in the evening.


This article was first published on June 04, 2015.
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