Buoyed by the water polo team's golden legacy

The 36-sport countdown continues with water polo and golf Gold medallists since 1965, the men's water polo team have a strong focus  

IT IS a proud sporting achievement for a small nation like Singapore, as the water polo team continue to reign supreme at the SEA Games, winning gold in every edition since 1965.

Such is their aura of dominance that Singaporeans expect them to just turn up at these Games and collect the gold medal for the 26th straight time.

But while the team are confident, they are aware of the twin perils: The pressure of delivering the only acceptable result and the danger of complacency.

Said left driver Bryan Ong: "The pressure is on to retain the title but we do have the confidence and our morale is high.

"We know we have the capabilities to do so, but whether or not our team remain confident and not complacent is one thing our captain and vice-captain will emphasise a lot, especially in the latter stages of the competition when we're facing Indonesia."

The 19-year-old full-time national serviceman, who is making his national team debut, admits to feeling nervous as he did not expect to make his debut so quickly, having trained with the team only since December.

"Of course, I am very nervous. But it's good in a way that it helps to build my character and resilience so I look forward to playing, showing people what Team Singapore is all about," he said.

Ong took up the sport in Secondary 1 in Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), saying that he was attracted to it as it was "entertaining".

His dream of making the national team began in 2011 when he watched some of his seniors from the school represent Singapore at the SEA Games.

Now that he is in the squad, he has only one thing on his mind at every training session. "What I tell myself whenever I go into training is not to put a lot of pressure on myself, focus on improving myself and my game," he said.

While the men's team try to extend their supremacy, the women's team are also looking to start their own era of dominance.

After winning gold at the 2011 Games (the women's event was not included in the 2013 edition), they have gone on to make major strides, finishing fifth at the Asian Games and eighth at last year's Fina Women's Water Polo World Cup.

Centre forward Adelyn Yew, the women's player of the year and one of the most experienced members of the squad, is happy with the increased exposure her team have received since then.

"In 2011, a lot of people didn't even know we had a women's team, even though we had been around since 2000," she said.

"But when we were featured in the papers and won a gold, people noticed us more, and it helped us more with sponsorships and recognition."

The 30-year-old is a bank executive with OCBC and has to juggle her corporate life with training.

She leaves her Clementi home early in the morning to get to work at Raffles Place. She leaves work by 7pm to get to the OCBC Aquatic Centre for training at 7.30pm, returning home at 11pm.

Managing both is no easy task and almost forced her to retire.

She recalled: "I was contemplating retirement in 2013, as I had surgery to remove my lymph nodes and had tonsillitis, so water polo took a back seat to my career.

"My coach then, Luo Nan, told me to stay a while longer, and asked whether I wanted to play at the SEA Games in 2015.

"He managed to convince me."

Although she will definitely retire after the Games, Yew has no regrets: "In 2015, I want to finish the SEA Games; that was my promise to coach Luo."

isaacneo@sph.com.sg

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