10 athletes to watch

Wuttichai Masuk. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Wuttichai Masuk. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Nguyen Thi Anh Vien. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Nguyen Thi Anh Vien. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
PHOTOS: REUTERS, ACTION IMAGES, ST FILE ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
PHOTOS: REUTERS, ACTION IMAGES, ST FILE ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
Chanatip Sonkham. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chanatip Sonkham. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chanathip Songkrasin. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
Chanathip Songkrasin. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
Shayna Ng. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Shayna Ng. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Isabelle Li. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Isabelle Li. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG, MARK CHEONG PHOTOS: ST FILE, FAS
ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG, MARK CHEONG PHOTOS: ST FILE, FAS
Jasmine Ser. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Jasmine Ser. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Irfan Fandi. -- PHOTO: FAS
Irfan Fandi. -- PHOTO: FAS

HOMETOWN FAVOURITES

IRFAN FANDI, FOOTBALL

LITERALLY and metaphorically, he is following in his father's footsteps. As he makes his SEA Games debut next week, Irfan Fandi, 17, finally has a chance to make a name for himself.

His father, Fandi Ahmad, played in nine SEA Games and bagged six medals - three silvers and three bronzes, so Irfan has a lot of catching up to do.

Having been named in a list of the top 40 young talents in world football by The Guardian, Irfan certainly has what it takes.

With a powerful physique, the 1.86m-tall player will be an asset for the Singapore Under-23 team both in defence and in attack - despite being the youngest member of the team.

Coach Aide Iskandar has used Irfan both at centre-back and as a striker in the side's six friendly matches thus far, in which he scored five goals to top the team's scoring chart.

With Singapore seeking a first football gold, all eyes will be on the pitches of the Jalan Besar and National stadiums to see if this son can go one better than his father.

DEEPANRAJ GANESAN


JASMINE SER, SHOOTING

MARK these events on your SEA Games calendar: Women's 10m air rifle. Women's 50m rifle prone. Women's 50m rifle three positions.

It has been nearly a decade since Jasmine Ser, the Republic's premier rifle specialist, first made her mark on the international scene. That was at the 2006 Asian Games when, as a 16-year-old, she won the 10m air rifle team silver alongside sister Adrienne and Vanessa Yong.

Since then, she has carved her own niche with three gold medals - two of them individual - as well as two Games records at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games.

A product of the Olympic Pathway Programme and a current Spex Scholarship recipient, she has worked her way up to reach the most coveted echelons of her sport. At the 2012 London Olympics, the wildcard shooter posted better results than some other competitors who had qualified for their berths.

At the SEA Games, she won gold medals in the 2007 and 2009 editions and will be gunning for more glory on home soil.

LIM CHING YING


ZUBIN MUNCHERJI, ATHLETICS

MOVING forward - that's what it's all about. Fully recovered from a hamstring injury, 400m runner Zubin Muncherji is focused only on moving forward.

And when the 1.88m youth gets into his stride, he is a fearsome prospect on the track.

Last year, the 17-year-old broke one of Singapore's oldest athletics records.

His time of 47.29sec in the 400m race at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Taipei was 11-hundredths of a second faster than the previous national mark of 47.40 set by Godfrey Jalleh in 1974.

Crucially, it is also just shy of the 2013 SEA Games-winning time of 47.22 set by Filipino Archand Christian Bagsit, and has put Zubin in the frame for a potential gold-medal tilt at the National Stadium next month.

While shot put star Zhang Guirong is chasing her sixth consecutive victory in the event and expected to deliver a gold for Singapore, do not rule out something special from Zubin.

JONATHAN WONG


ISABELLE LI, TABLE TENNIS

SHE was the women's singles silver medallist at the last two SEA Games, losing to her more experienced and higher-ranked team- mates on both occasions.

But this has been a year where paddler Isabelle Li has shown an appetite for the big stage.

In January, the 20-year-old, then ranked 130th in the world, scored the biggest victory of her career with an improbable 3-2 win over 20th-ranked Lee Ho Ching of Hong Kong in the fifth and deciding match of the ITTF World Team Cup quarter-final.

It guaranteed Singapore a bronze medal at the prestigious tournament and Li's performance was praised by national women's coach Jing Junhong, who declared that Li had finally come of age.

Now hovering just outside the top 100 and on an upward trajectory, Li will again be entered for the women's singles and team events at these SEA Games.

Unlike the past editions, she will be an integral part of the national squad who are gunning for a clean sweep of all seven golds on offer at next month's Games.

JONATHAN WONG


SHAYNA NG, BOWLING

WHILE the lanes on which she bowls are universally smooth and even, Shayna Ng has experienced some rough edges in her career.

In 2006, she made the national team at 17. But after finishing 52nd out of 57 bowlers in the all events category at the 19th Asian Tenpin Bowling Championships in Jakarta that year, she was demoted to the youth team.

It was 2009 before she returned to the national squad and she has not looked back since.

At the 2011 SEA Games, she was part of the five-woman team who won the gold. The next year, she was crowned world champion at the QubicaAMF World Cup in Poland.

She went on to win her second major individual title at the PBA-World Bowling Tour International Bowling Championships in 2013 in Nagoya, Japan.

Ng, 26, was the 2014 Sportswoman of the Year. Now, the SEA Games present a chance to extend her pedigree on home soil as she competes in all five women's events - singles, doubles, trios, team of five and masters.

CHUAN LIMIN


NEIGHBOURING STARS

CHANATHIP SONGKRASIN, FOOTBALL

THEY call him "Messi-J" because of his similarity to the Barcelona superstar in terms of his compact build and impressive dribbling skills.

And last December, Thailand's attacking midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin proved to be as valuable to his country as the Argentinian star, as he was named the best player of the 2014 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

That triumph was Thailand's fourth regional title as they defeated Singapore en route to winning the crown.

Only 21 years old, he was also the youngest to receive the Most Valuable Player gong since the inaugural tournament in 1996.

Chanathip currently plays for BEC Tero Sasana in the Thai Premier League but his talents have sparked the interest of top Japanese teams Shimizu S-Pulse and Gamba Osaka.

At the Games, defending football champions Thailand will be looking to Chanathip again, as they bid to leave Singapore with another gold medal to add to their collection of 14.

DEEPANRAJ GANESAN


CHANATIP SONKHAM, TAEKWONDO

LOOK out for this taekwondo flyweight exponent at the upcoming SEA Games competition.

Chanatip Sonkham came to prominence in the 49kg category when the Thai won a bronze at the 2010 Asian Taekwondo Championships.

The 24-year-old then shone at the 2012 London Olympics as she eliminated Russian and Chinese Taipei opponents to reach the semi-finals, where she lost by just one point to Spain's Brigitte Yague.

She eventually settled for bronze after easily beating Guatemala's Elizabeth Zamora Gordillo 8-0.

A year later, she thrashed Jordan's Dana Touran 13-0 to take the World Taekwondo Championships flyweight gold in Puebla, Mexico.

This will be Chanatip's maiden SEA Games. With continental, world and Olympic titles and medals under her belt, she will be looking forward to add a SEA Games gold to her growing medal collection and enhance her reputation as Asean's taekwondo queen.

LOW JAY SEN


PANDELELA RINONG, DIVING

WHEN a Sarawak coach picked Pandelela Rinong and several other elementary school students as having some aquatic potential, she was eight. She learnt to swim first, before she was steered towards diving the next year.

The first time Singaporeans saw her compete, at the 2010 Youth Olympics, she was 17. She won two silvers in the 10m platform and 3m springboard.

She will return here next month as the first Olympic medal winner for Malaysia in a sport besides badminton, the first Malaysian woman to win an Olympic medal, and the first Malaysian female flag bearer at the Olympics.

Now 22, having competed in three SEA Games, winning five gold medals, she is bidding to retain her 10m platform gold. But she is not taking victory for granted. She told the Malay Mail Online: "I'll definitely give my best and won't take things easy.

"The aim is of course to retain my medal but diving is a subjective sport and anything can happen during competition."

HO SI RUI


NGUYEN THI ANH VIEN, SWIMMING

SINGAPORE may have its young swim star in Joseph Schooling, but Vietnam can also boast a bright young talent in 19-year- old Nguyen Thi Anh Vien.

Like Schooling, she is already a multiple SEA Games medallist, having won three golds, four silvers and a bronze at the 2011 and 2013 editions.

Similarly, she is setting unprecedented feats for her country - becoming the first Vietnamese swimmer to clinch Asian Games medals when she earned two bronzes (200m backstroke and 400m individual medley) in Incheon last year.

And, just like Schooling, she is based in the United States, as she prepares to represent her country at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

At this SEA Games, Anh Vien is tipped to challenge for six golds, even as she faces stiff competition from the Singapore contingent.

No doubt, Vietnam's most valuable athlete of 2014 will hope to make a name at the OCBC Aquatic Centre even amid the likely dominance from the Singapore swimmers.

CLARA CHONG


WUTTICHAI MASUK, BOXING

FOR one who professes to model himself on legendary Thai boxer Manus Boonjumnong, Wuttichai Masuk has certainly gone some way to emulating his compatriot's achievements.

Like the 2004 Olympic light-welterweight champion, Wuttichai, 25, has built up his own formidable record in the weight class.

Wuttichai first made waves in the featherweight category. At just 19, he beat Hurshid Tajibayev of Uzbekistan in the 2009 Asian Amateur Boxing Championships in Zhuhai, China.

He bulked up for the light-welterweight class at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, taking home a bronze. Four years later, at the Incheon Asian Games, he took out the hometown favourite Lim Hyun Chul to win gold.

Last year, he was awarded the title of Best Amateur Athlete in Thailand by the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT).

As the current holder of both the SEA Games and Asian Games light-welterweight titles, Wuttichai looks ready to set the canvas ablaze in Singapore.

LOW JAY SEN

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