Canoeists enlist help from Hungarians

Singapore national canoeing coach Balazs Babella says the local athletes will gain good experience training with the world junior champions from Hungary.
Singapore national canoeing coach Balazs Babella says the local athletes will gain good experience training with the world junior champions from Hungary.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Flushed with confidence from their record seven-gold performance in June's SEA Games, Singapore's national canoeists are primed for a final charge at the improbable - qualifying for next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

They have one more chance to qualify outright for the Games - at the Nov 4-7 Asian Canoe Championships in Palembang, Indonesia.

And national team coach Balazs Babella is sparing no efforts in gearing up his charges for the challenge.

He has recruited six world junior champions from his home nation Hungary to come to Singapore to train with the national canoeists. They arrived yesterday, and will train with the team until the end of next month.

Said Babella: "The junior champions will help our canoeists with techniques and to maintain a quality training environment. Our canoeists should gain plenty of experience from training with these world-class athletes."

Already, the canoeists have trained with recent World Championship winners Sandor Totka, Peter Molnar and Erika Medveczky during a seven-week training camp in Hungary that began in July.

"It is a very good opportunity to train with world-class athletes," said Babella. "Over there, the professional environment is amazing. Everyone is there to help them achieve their goals."

Qualifying at the Asian Championships will not be easy, however, as Singapore face stiff competition from top nations like South Korea, Japan, China and Iran.

Geraldine Lee, who was the Republic's first and only canoeist to make the Olympics in 2012, had qualified via an unused quota place awarded by the International Canoe Federation. However, her chances of taking part in the Asian Championships are slim, as she had just restarted training after recovering from an injury suffered during the Hungary training camp .

Said her national team-mate Brandon Ooi, 21: "Qualifying for the Olympics will be harder this year because we have to win first, but we are not very far from the fastest. I am looking forward to training with the Hungarians. The best training partners are those who are a little faster than you so that you can push and chase that little bit. It will be good for us to imitate the way they paddle and train.

"I have been looking forward to the Asian Championship because I love racing and it is one of the events that I have been doing pretty well in."

While the canoeists eye Olympic qualification, Babella is already planning for future success.

He said: "The Olympics is our dream. It is not impossible and we will fight until the last centimetre to achieve it.

"But our real target is the 2018 Asian Games. Our results at last month's World Championships in Milan showed that we were better than last year, and if we improve the same way, I am confident that we can win a medal or two in 2018.

"If that happens, the 2020 Olympics will be very close for us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'Canoeists enlist help from Hungarians'. Print Edition | Subscribe