THE 36-SPORT COUNTDOWN CONTINUES WITH FOOTBALL AND WUSHU

Games just the start of Wushu exponent Yong Yi Xiang's hopeful journey

When wushu exponent Yong Yi Xiang embarked on a training stint in China six months ago, he was focused only on preparations for the SEA Games.

By the time the stint concluded earlier this month, the 21-year-old had also developed a thirst to pursue excellence in his chosen sport even beyond the Games.

He told The Sunday Times: "When training with professional athletes, it just felt like our skills were never enough, so there was this constant pressure to keep improving.

"This SEA Games is just the start of what I hope will be an upward trend to improve with every competition."

Yong is one of the two Singapore wushu exponents who have been training full time in preparation for the Games, the other being 2013 gold medallist Valerie Wee.

The stint came at the cost of deferring his admission to law school at the National University of Singapore by a year, but Yong had no regrets over his decision.

He said: "No matter how hard people tried to dissuade me, my heart was still leaning towards wushu, so I knew it was what I wanted to do."

For Wee, 25, the choice was less straightforward. She said: "For women, entering the workforce late is a bit difficult, and I am quite old already, compared to the rest of the team.

"But I decided to give myself a last chance to see how much I can improve within a year, and to give it my all."

The wushu exponents reaped rich rewards the last time the Games were held on local soil back in 1993, with a bumper haul of seven golds, six silvers and five bronzes to end up as the second-most bemedalled sport behind swimming.

The stellar results of 22 years ago have served as an inspiration for the class of 2015, who are aiming for a more modest three golds.

Said Wee, who won Singapore's only gold in the duilian (unarmed) event alongside partner Vera Tan in the 2013 Games: "We had motivational talks by the medallists, and these talks showed that people have been there and done that. Hence, I know I can do it too."

While the upcoming Games could be the last one for veteran Wee, they could prove to be a springboard to greater achievements for the younger athletes in the Singapore team.

Ho Lin Ying, 16, gold medallist in taijiquan (compulsory) at the 2013 World Wushu Championships, will be making her Games debut along with fellow 16-year-old Lim Si Wei.

Zoe Mui, 18, and Jesse Colin Adalia, 17, both silver medallists at the Nanjing Sports Lab - which was held alongside the 2014 Youth Olympic Games - will also step onto the mat for their second taste of the SEA Games at the Singapore Expo next weekend.

Zoe, who will be competing in three events, is looking forward to the experience.

"My family and friends will be coming over, and this motivates me, because I want to do better and make them proud," said the Singapore Polytechnic student.

While she was part of the duilian (bare hands) team who won silver at the last SEA Games, she is not setting any medal targets. She added: "I just want to do my best, and the medals will be a bonus."

This view was echoed by Yong, who noted that the team's success is not based solely on results.

He concluded: "My personal goal is to put up a good show for whoever is watching. As long as they are here to watch a performance, I have to put up my best.

"After all, wushu is a performance sport."