2016 Olympics: Team Singapore progress report

Competitive urge drives Rio dream

Singapore sailors Griselda Khng (left) and Sara Tan won gold in the 49erFX skiff class at the SEA Games and aim to make it to Rio after internal trials. Much of the $60,000 total funding for their quest has been provided by their parents.
Singapore sailors Griselda Khng (left) and Sara Tan won gold in the 49erFX skiff class at the SEA Games and aim to make it to Rio after internal trials. Much of the $60,000 total funding for their quest has been provided by their parents.PHOTO: SINGSOC/ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

Griselda Khng & 49erFX skiff partner spend bulk of time training and competing abroad

Singapore sailor Griselda Khng's Olympic journey began more than three years ago, on the rough waters of the Neusiedler See in Austria, scene of the women's 420 World Championships in 2012.

Competing in her first sailing event after a two-year hiatus, she cruised to a third-place finish with partner Lee Shu Xian, a feat which reignited a fire in the petite 1.55 metre-tall athlete.

She had stopped sailing partly because of studies, and because she could not find a crew in the double-handed classes, after graduating from the Optimist.

The 24-year-old skipper, a girls' Optimist world champion in 2006, said: "Shu Xian asked if I wanted to sail with her. I agreed because I thought it'd be fun, so to finish on the podium was pretty amazing.

"The result gave me the boost I needed, and I just jumped on that and made up my mind to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. "

DOING BETTER NEXT TIME

I don't really dwell on the past. But I'm driven to prove to myself that every time I go through a difficult period, I can come back even stronger.

GRISELDA KHNG, on overcoming setbacks

A year later, Khng partnered Sara Tan and they took their first steps on the Olympic trail, one which came to fruition last November in Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The duo finished 13th out of 44 boats at the 49er World Championships, earning one of three qualifying spots for the Games in Rio de Janeiro. The 49erFX skiff is making its Olympic debut this year.

This comes five months after they won the same class at last June's Singapore SEA Games.

Their success also caps a fine run for local sailing. The Republic will have eight sailors battling the winds at the Marina da Gloria, eclipsing the previous high of six sailors at the 2008 Olympics.

In all, 10 Singapore athletes from sailing and swimming have made the cut for Brazil. That number could swell further, with more Team Singapore athletes from sports including table tennis and badminton well poised to hop on the Rio express.

Earning the ticket to sport's grandest stage was also vindication of their sacrifice, all the more so for Khng, who in 2006, suffered a setback by being the only Singapore sailor to return from the Asian Games without a medal.

"I don't really dwell on the past. But I'm driven to prove to myself that every time I go through a difficult period, I can come back even stronger," she said.

To support their Olympic dream, which includes paying for equipment and hiring a coach, Khng and Tan, who became Sports Excellence scholars (Spex) last year, held their own fund-raiser late in 2013.

They auctioned wine donated by sponsors, sold cupcakes baked by a friend and took donors out on joyrides on their boat.

The bulk of the financial support to chase a dream that costs around $60,000 came from both their parents, who Khng said have been "very supportive".

They also have to put on more weight to ensure the boat is as flat as it can be on the water. The flatter the boat, the faster it goes in a straight line.

Khng said she had gained 10kg over the last two years and now weighs 56.5kg. She gained that mass from drinking protein shakes and pumping iron in the gym at least five times a week.

Then there is also the time spent away from family and friends. Most of the Republic's sailors train in countries with better wind conditions, while many regattas are held in Europe and South America.

The affable Khng said: "We counted the number of days we were in Singapore this year, and it was 87 days or something.

"But it comes to a point where you don't see all these as sacrifices, but rather things you need to do to achieve your goal.

"I know how badly I want to represent Singapore at the Olympics, and I consider myself lucky to be able to pursue my passion."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Competitive urge drives Rio dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe