Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Singapore at the Commonwealth Games 2014

Give due credit to foreign-born S'pore athletes

I HOPE the hard-earned victories of our national shuttlers and paddlers have vindicated the decision of our national sports associations to bring foreign-born sports talent into our national teams ("Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze" and "S'pore glue on crown holds"; yesterday).

Of course, we would love to have local-born athletes mount the victory podium. But the reality is that athletes like paddler Isabelle Li and shuttlers Vanessa Neo and Derek Wong, who are willing and able to train almost full-time, are hard to come by.

Sports training is tough and the hours are long. Careers can be short-lived and there is no guarantee of success.

Our society focuses on academic pursuits and the corporate rat race. This, plus the many other distractions in life, serves to discourage young Singaporeans from taking up careers in sports.

It was tough enough for them to uproot themselves from their comfort zones in their native countries to make their new homes here. They then went on to earn their stripes as Singaporeans by training hard daily and then fighting their guts out at competitions for our nation.

This was amply demonstrated by the courageous and spirited performance of Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari in their epic 29-27 win in the second game of Singapore's deciding women's doubles match against their Indian rivals for the Commonwealth Games mixed team bronze.

At that moment when match point was won and all the Singapore players and officials dashed onto the court to huddle together in an unbridled display of pride and joy, it did not matter where the shuttlers were born - they were all Singaporeans.

Edwin Pang
ST Forum, 30 Jul 2014

Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze
By Sanjay Nair In Glasgow, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

SHINTA Mulia Sari and Yao Lei threw their rackets up and screamed in delight, capping off a dramatic, heart-stopping end to their Commonwealth Games badminton match.

The demons of 2010 had been vanquished as the Singaporean women's doubles duo beat India's Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa 21-17, 29-27 in a tense rubber match to give Singapore a 3-2 victory and an unexpected bronze in the mixed team event.

The same opponents had pipped them to the women's doubles gold in New Delhi four years ago, and also won a group stage encounter at the 2012 Olympics.

At the Emirates Arena yesterday, it was the turn of the Singaporeans to be embraced by their team-mates on court, enveloped by a standing ovation and the joy of winning their first team medal since a silver in 2002.

"Amazing, just brilliant - India were the clear favourites and we took them down for a change," a teary-eyed Shinta told The Straits Times.

"It was not the gold we were hoping for but any medal, especially after the year we had, is welcome."

It certainly felt like a final. Gasps echoed across the 4,000-strong crowd when the Singaporean duo initially failed to convert five match points, including two that arrived after their opponents inexplicably served into the net.

Yao said: "We were only thinking about winning. We kept telling ourselves we only need one point and just to play normally, because we are so close."

Singapore's shuttlers had come under fire after sub-par performances at the SEA Games and Singapore Open last year.

They were up against a strong Indian outfit, who were placed second and third at the last two Commonwealth editions and fielded all their top players except injured top female star Saina Nehwal.

Singapore also had to pick themselves up after an agonising 2-3 semi-final defeat by Malaysia a day earlier.

They were on the right side of the same scoreline yesterday, after holding a team meeting to address low morale.

Team manager Chua Yong Joo said: "The message was we didn't play badly against Malaysia, they were just better.

"We lost but we couldn't afford to moan. We still had a shot at a medal and if we didn't take that, it would hurt for a much longer time."

That is no longer a concern, thanks to wins from Vanessa Neo and Danny Chrisnanta in the mixed doubles as well as men's pair Chayut Triyachart and Chrisnanta, who had only a half-hour rest after his earlier match.

With Singapore up 2-1, Liang Xiaoyu could have won the decisive third point in the women's singles. But the 18-year-old Games debutant blew a 20-17 lead in the first game to fall 22-24, 13-21 to world No. 11 P.V. Sindhu.

It set the stage for Singapore's top women's duo to have the final say against their old rivals, who were too upset to speak to the media after the tie.

India may have under-estimated their opponents, judging by their comments after Neo and Chrisnanta beat scratch pairing Ponnappa and V.R. Gurusaidutt 21-19, 21-19 in the opener

Ponnappa said at the time that "if we won, then it would be a bonus".

The 2010 women's doubles gold medallist added: "We don't have a mixed doubles pair so we focus on our strong points which are the singles, and men's and women's doubles."

Thankfully for Singapore, she was wrong, giving the squad a timely confidence boost ahead of the start of singles and doubles action today.

Derek Wong, the Republic's main hope in the men's singles, said: "We are all going for a medal of a different colour now."

S'pore glue on crown holds
Men's team win gold with 3-1 result despite injury and equipment flaws
By Wang Meng Meng In Glasgow, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

SEEN as the poorer counterparts to the all-conquering women's squad who won every Commonwealth Games table tennis team gold since 2002, the Singapore men's team are starting to catch up after a 3-1 win over a determined England in the final yesterday.

With that victory, coach Yang Chuanning's men retained the gold medal they won in the 2010 edition in New Delhi, and handed Singapore its third gold at the Glasgow Games.

And it was a triumph achieved with players struggling with pain or faulty equipment.

Zhan Jian had to cope with the pain in his right thigh while Gao Ning was unable to play at his maximum effectiveness as the glue on his bat was not adhesive enough to give him sufficient grip.

Yang revealed: "I am very delighted with this win as my players showed great mental strength.

"I had expected a 3-1 scoreline but I had thought it would be the English singles players who would cause us problems.

"Little did I know that we would lose the doubles game.

"But, in the end, it all went well for us and I think Gao, especially, had an incredible game even though he was affected by the glue on his bat."

In a gripping first game, Zhan was stunned in the first set by Paul Drinkhall before regaining his composure to win 5-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-7, 11-2.

And in a show of mental strength, Gao silenced the partisan crowd, who were clapping and stamping their feet in support of his 21-year-old opponent Liam Pitchford, when he staged an improbable comeback after going down 2-8 in the second set.

Point by point, he clawed back, surviving rallies and sending Pitchford to look for a towel to wipe his sweaty palms, until that deficit evaporated.

In the end, the 31-year-old won 11-9, 13-11, 11-3.

At the end of his game, Pitchford sat on a chair expressionless, crushed by the demoralising blow inflicted by the Singaporean.

But the Republic suffered a blow in the doubles as Li Hu and Gao were beaten 1-3 by the teamwork of Andrew Baggaley and Drinkhall 11-8, 6-11, 8-11, 3-11.

It was left to Zhan, the men's singles winner at the 2010 New Delhi Games and last year's Myanmar SEA Games, to step up to the plate and the 32-year-old swiftly despatched Baggaley 11-4, 11-8, 11-9.

Zhan said: "I struggled with my injury in the first game against Drinkhall and it showed as I could only win 3-2.

"But as I played on, I managed the pain and coped with it.

"In the end, I felt my leg was stable enough for me to remove the bandage to play on."

Singapore win women's team table tennis gold
New-look women's team show grit in keeping C'wealth Games winning run
By Wang Meng Meng In Glasgow, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2014

IT MAY be gloomy skies over Glasgow but a new dawn has broken for Singapore table tennis as a fresh women's side won their first major honour to prove that there is life after the retirement of tried-and-tested veterans.

With Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu - two pillars of the team who won Olympic medals in 2008 and 2012 - gone, the new crop of Yu Mengyu, Lin Ye, Isabelle Li and Zhou Yihan plus world No. 5 Feng Tianwei, delivered the Republic's first major title since the heady days of London 2012.

Facing neighbours Malaysia in the team final yesterday at the Scotstoun Sports Campus, Singapore recorded a convincing 3-0 win despite stiff resistance.

With a handful of Malaysians cheering from the stands and even waving placards linked to the Malaysia Airlines plane crash in Ukraine, the atmosphere became even more charged up.

Boosted by the support from the stands, Malaysia's first singles player Ng Sock Khim won the first set 11-7 against Yu. For the Singaporean, it could have triggered off memories of her 3-2 singles defeat to India's Manika Batra in the semi-final, which Singapore won 3-1 - the only time the champions had dropped a point en route to the gold medal.

But her stand was: "It was a good chance to show that I can bounce back.

"Coach Jing (Junhong) helped me tremendously with her constant encouragement. She told me not to doubt myself and just go out there and play my heart out.

"I listened to her words and went out letting the opponent adapt to my game rather than me playing to suit her style."

Once Yu, the world No. 18, unleashed her aggression, there was no way back for Ng as the Singaporean won the next three sets 11-5, 11-9 and 11-9.

Skipper Feng, the highest- ranked women's player in Glasgow at No. 5, then easily overcame world No. 163 Beh Lee Wei 11-8, 11-5 and 11-4.

It was not so smooth sailing in the doubles when Ho Ying and Beh clawed back the second set against Lin and Yu.

But amid the loud cheers from the Singaporean fans, who included Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Sam Tan, Lin and Yu found the willpower to survive the long rallies and clinch a 3-1 win (11-9, 11-13, 11-9 and 11-5).

Feng said: "We had a hard time in the doubles because the Malaysians refused to give up but we withstood the pressure."

Jing praised her captain for leading by example: "Tianwei was a calming influence. After Mengyu's defeat, maybe there would be jitters but looking at the way the captain played, the players got the courage to go out there to fight for Singapore.

"It was an outstanding performance from the team against a Malaysia team that attacked fiercely.

"This experience can only be good for the young players who have now tasted a major competition."

Team Singapore chef de mission Low Teo Ping said: "We need to keep the momentum going and I am pleased that this second gold is timely. We urge the athletes to continue to stay focused on their competitions."

Schooling wins Singapore's first swimming medal, clinching silver in 100m butterfly final
By Wang Meng Meng In Glasgow, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

Years of hard work had boiled down to an outburst of explosive energy as Joseph Schooling powered his way into Singapore sports history by winning the country's first-ever swimming medal at the Commonwealth Games.

The 19-year-old clinched the silver in the 100m butterfly at Glasgow's Tollcross Swimming Centre when he touched home in a new national record time of 51.69 secs, which erased his old national mark of 52.22 secs he set in the semi-finals.

It also eclipsed the Asian Games record (51.83 secs) set in 2010 by China's Zhou Jiawei but it is 0.69 secs slower than the Asian record held by Japan's Kohei Kawamoto since 2009.

South Africa's swim star Chad le Clos won the gold with a new games record time of 51.29 secs while England's Adam Barrett took the bronze (51.93 secs).

Schooling, who had been plagued by poor starts, overly tight swim shorts and a bout of self-doubt during the Commonwealth Games, regained his confidence by relaxing and bonding with his team-mates.

Rejuvenated, he produced a textbook swim with a quick start off the blocks, powering ahead, was second at the split (27.45 secs) and continued surging without losing steam to touch the wall and earn his place in Singapore's sports history.

"This is a huge honour and a huge relief," said an exhausted Schooling after the race.

"I started the Commonwealth Games well with a good heat in the 50m butterfly but I relaxed and it went downhill. I completely messed up my 200m butterfly. But I managed to come back and beat these guys in the 100m final.

"It showed how much I've matured."

Schooling will take part in the 200m individual medley heats today.

First gold for Singapore as Teo Shun Xie wins 10m air pistol
By Sanjay Nair In Glasgow, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

TEO Shun Xie woke up yesterday to the same breakfast of mushrooms, tomatoes and boiled eggs. She then had her usual chat with coach Anatoly Babushkin, and meditated in her hotel room.

Basically, nothing out of the ordinary for the shooter. A few hours later, her day turned into something extraordinary - both for her and Team Singapore.

Showing immense calm and poise, the 25-year-old research officer fired her way to gold in the women's 10m air pistol competition, becoming the Republic's first medallist at Glasgow 2014.

"Totally unexpected, totally shocked, totally awesome," a breathless Teo told The Straits Times moments before receiving her medal and hearing "Majulah Singapura" ring out at a blustery Barry Buddon Shooting Centre on the outskirts of the industrial city.

Having finished 14th in New Delhi four years ago and never placing inside the top 20 of a Shooting World Cup leg, few would have predicted seeing her name at the top of a 28-strong field that included top markswomen from India and Canada.

But, backed by a late surge from all the way back in seventh place, the Singaporean scored 198.6 points to finish ahead of India's Malaika Goel (197.1) and Canada's Dorothy Ludwig (177.2).

Compatriot Nicole Tan was 21st in the preliminary round and did not qualify for the final.

Teo's tally has also been recognised as a Games record, owing to a new scoring system where shots are scored from zero to 10.9 based on distance from the bull's eye.

Team manager Ng Jing Hui said: "With the revamped scoring, where everyone starts from zero in the final, it is anybody's to win and Shun Xie deservedly grabbed the chance with both hands."

But it was not smooth sailing for Teo, a biology graduate from the Nanyang Technological University, at the start. The fifth-best qualifier in the final, her first effort was somewhat off the mark.

Most shooters' confidence and shoulders will drop after an 8.8, but Teo's did not.

"I was a bit nervous for the first few shots as it's my first Commonwealth Games final," the 2013 SEA Games silver medallist explained. "I told myself, 'Hey, it's the same gun, the same target, the same distance - just shoot like normal'."

If what she eventually showed was "normal", Singapore has a real hotshot on its hands.

Her final five shots were all above 10.2, including a sizzling 10.7 - the competition's best effort - that drew gasps from an enthralled audience.

Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said: "It was not just winning the gold, but the way she won.

"She was initially in seventh place, and she fought her way to the very top. That show tremendous resilience and confidence.

" I hope this will inspire all our other athletes to keep up their fighting spirit."

'Solid result' for Singapore at Commonwealth Games: Lawrence Wong
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Aug 2014

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong says he is very proud of how Team Singapore has performed at the Commonwealth Games, which wrapped on Sunday (Aug 3). Singapore had a "solid result" of eight gold, five silver and four bronze medals, he said in a Facebook post.

He noted that Singapore had several breakthroughs - garnering first medals in swimming (Joseph Schooling), men's artistic gymnastics (Hoe Wah Toon) as well as for men's badminton's doubles (Danny Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart) and singles (Derek Wong). Many athletes recorded personal bests and braved tough competition to clinch medals, such as Teo Shun Xie's gold medal in the 10m Air Pistol event.

"Beyond the medal achievements, I was most impressed by the way our athletes competed. They showed tremendous grit, resilience and fighting spirit," Mr Wong wrote.

He gave special mention to swimming sensation Joseph Schooling and shooter Jasmine Ser. "Joseph didn't do so well in his 200m event, but he bounced back to break the national record and get silver in the 100m fly. Jasmine Ser initially failed to get a medal in her pet event, but shot her way to a gold medal later at the 50m rifle 3 positions event."

Mr Wong promised that his ministry would continue to build up Singapore's high-performance sport system and provide maximum support for athletes.

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