SINGAPORE - They have reigned supreme in the region for decades, winning 25 consecutive gold medals at what started out as the South-east Asian Peninsular Games and is now the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
The Singapore men's water polo team have always delivered in one of the most remarkable winning streaks in sport, and they will look to do so for the 26th time this year in front of their own fans, when the Republic hosts the biennial SEA Games from June 5 to 16.
Already, the squad are busy working up a sweat preparing for their assault at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
They trained with the Korea National Sport University team for about 10 days last month and are currently working with the team from Tsukuba University, who are coached by Eisuke Kawai - who helmed Japan's 2010 Asian Games team.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the Singapore Swimming Association vice-president (water polo) Samuel Wong said: "These may be university teams, but their standards are actually on a par with us, or better."
Japan are ranked 15th in the world, a place above the Republic, and clinched bronze at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, last year.
Said Wong: "We have always guarded against complacency and trained intensively in preparation for the SEA Games.
"But, this year, it's a little more intensive, I feel, because it is a very special year for us. It is SG50 and we want to contribute a birthday gift for Singapore's celebrations.
"And it is the first time that we will be defending our title at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, so we want to do well." Wong is the former manager of the water polo team.
He revealed that plans are afoot for the squad to have centralised training in Japan just before the SEA Games, although the dates have not been fixed yet.
The ASEAN kingpins have coped with the pressure of maintaining their status in the region, but Wong knows the pressure to win in front of a home crowd is a different ball game.
He said: "I would say that we are about 80 per cent there in terms of preparation. In terms of physical strength, we are there already, but we would need to do more on mental strength.
"We have had the same sports psychologist since 2012, so in that aspect we are gearing up quite well."
Beyond this year's SEA Games preparations, the SSA is also grooming the next generation of players who could make a breakthrough at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, and form the core of the squad for the 2018 Asian Games.
"We have always sent our (senior) team to the Fina World Men's Water Polo Development Trophy tournament, but we will send our Under-23 team to the competition this April instead," said Wong.
"We want to think two, three steps ahead."
This article was first published on January 7, 2015.
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