A gold every day for Team Singapore

Squash jumbo doubles title ensures Singapore's SEA Games winning streak continues unabated

AS THE second last day of the SEA Games came to a close, Singapore's gold medal-winning streak was in danger of ending.

The women's water polo team had fallen to a shock loss to Thailand in the gold-medal match. With only one other Singapore hope left in gold contention, all eyes were on Marcus Phua and Vivian Rhamanan.

Gold in the men's jumbo doubles would mean a first SEA Games squash title in 20 years - but on this day, it would also mean that Team Singapore's streak of winning a gold every day since June 3 would be kept alive.

So, it was at a packed Tanglin Club that the once childhood rivals combined to overcome Indonesia's Ade Furkon and Sandi A. Perdana 11-3, 11-8 to win gold.

Before the match, the duo witnessed on television the women's water polo team's defeat by their Thai counterparts.

Said Rhamanan, 29, who is also assistant coach for the national squash team: "We were rooting for the girls, hoping they would level at the last minute but unfortunately it didn't happen.

"So we just went out there and did our best. We knew that we could rely on our fitness."

Endurance is a key factor in the jumbo doubles, which was making its Games debut, as each rally takes longer than in a regular singles squash match.

The Singapore pair eased to a 11-3 win in the first game, but the second proved much closer.

With both finalists having played their semi-finals in the morning, fatigue was setting in.

In the second game, each point scored by Singapore was matched by their opponents. But, as they broke away to lead 9-8, the partisan crowd could sense victory.

"Come on, just two more!" yelled a spectator from among the overspilling crowd seated outside the courts, keeping an eye on the match from a live television feed.

While it was unlikely that the pair heard the supportive cry, the contest promptly went to match-point.

And upon taking the winning point, the triumphant pair immediately turned to each other for a relieved embrace.

"Overwhelmed, extremely happy. Man, it's an amazing feeling," said Rhamanan outside the court.

Expectations were high for the duo to deliver, especially since the pair have been undefeated in the event in regional competitions.

With powerhouses Malaysia out of the picture for the event, Singapore had a good chance to end the gold-medal drought and regain their foothold in the sport.

However, despite their gold medal, Phua insisted that their victory did not come easily.

"I don't think it was easy at all even though we didn't drop a game," said the 24-year-old audit associate, who took six months off work to prepare for the Games.

"The Thais, the Filipinos, they really gave us a run for the money. We really had to grind it out.

"I think everyone expected us to get a gold medal in this event. So we needed to deliver and we're really glad we managed to do it."

He added: "If you told me I would be winning the gold with my childhood friend more than 10 years later, I wouldn't have believed it."

With their historic win, the pair said they are hoping to garner more support for the sport in Singapore and move on to compete at bigger Games.

Squash captured four golds at the 1993 SEA Games, but has failed to make an impact since.

Both Phua and Rhamanan hope to continue their partnership and have their sights on competing on the international circuit.

But, for now, the pair just want to enjoy their moment.

Turning to Phua, Rhamanan hugged him, planted a kiss on his cheek and said: "We did it, bro, we did it."

ngxtc@sph.com.sg

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