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SEA Games 2023: ‘We must make it count in 2029’, says athletics chief

Singapore's athletics contingent returning from Cambodia on May 13. The contingent picked up 10 medals at the Cambodia SEA Games. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

PHNOM PENH – Six years may seem like a lifetime as Singapore prepares to host the 2029 SEA Games, though for Singapore Athletics president Lien Choong Luen, work has already begun as its athletes returned from the Cambodia SEA Games on Saturday with a haul of 10 medals.

The national sports association has already identified several areas to improve on, said Lien, with plans to beef up its throws and jumps department.

He said: “Many of our athletes at this Games will still be around in 2029. We need to go around and tell the younger kids that if you like the sport, the opportunity to compete on home soil is once in a lifetime. We must make it count in 2029 so we need to build the road map for the next few years.

“Last year and this year showed that our team is riding a high and it’s testimony to the coaches and sacrifices of athletes. We must look at how we can provide better support to them.”

Lien added that he was delighted with their display as it showed that their performance in Hanoi was no fluke.

Over five days of action at the Morodok Techo National Stadium, the 30-strong contingent won three gold, two silver and five bronze medals,

It is one of Singapore’s best away performances in the sport at the Games. At the last edition in Hanoi a year ago, the team picked up 11 medals – one gold, three silvers and seven bronzes.

Thailand topped the medal table with 16 gold, eight silver and five bronzes, with Vietnam (12-20-8) and Indonesia (7-3-9) second and third respectively.

Making headlines was sprint queen Shanti Pereira’s historic double golds in the 100m and 200m, while Ang Chen Xiang claimed a first 100m hurdles title for Singapore in 56 years. Two-time marathon champion Soh Rui Yong’s temporary move from the road to the track earned him a silver in the 10,000m and Marc Louis came close to a 100m gold – he missed by 0.02sec to settle for silver in 10.39sec.

An age-old record tumbled as well, as the men’s 4x400m relay quartet of Ng Chin Hui, Zubin Muncherji, Calvin Quek and Thiruben Thana Rajan set a new national record of 3:10.11, beating the 3:10.55 mark from the 1974 Asian Games.

In the field, success only came in the form of high jumper Michelle Sng, who won a bronze. This was a far cry from the glory days of throwers James Wong – winner of 10 gold medals from 1987 to 2011 – and Zhang Guirong, who won five titles in discus and shot put from 2003 to 2015.

Lien stressed that it is an area the team will look into, noting that the recent results at the National School Games have shown that there is talent in the pipeline.

He added: “We should have athletes that are competitive at SEA Games in those events. Throws especially is a programme we want to work hard on. We need to grow it.”

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Turning his attention to gold medallists Pereira and Ang, Lien said they can look forward to more support from the association.

One way to do that is to beef up its Overseas Competition and Training Camp (OCTC) Grant which was disbursed to over 40 athletes. The grant provides up to $20,000 per athlete and is funded with the support of Singapore Athletics’ sponsors and donors.

He added: “We have to look at what’s outside the coaching which would be strengthening the infrastructure and giving them more overseas training opportunities. We will look at how we can better support them. We believe that our top local athletes really step up to a new level of performance when they have an opportunity to train and compete against others that would push them.”