Goalball rookies training hard for Para Games

Above: Nazarudin, 37, goalball athlete, making a save. Left: Kamas Mohd and Chua Chong Hoi tussling in a wheelchair basketball demonstration event.
Above: Nazarudin, 37, goalball athlete, making a save. PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Above: Nazarudin, 37, goalball athlete, making a save. Left: Kamas Mohd and Chua Chong Hoi tussling in a wheelchair basketball demonstration event.
Above: Kamas Mohd and Chua Chong Hoi tussling in a wheelchair basketball demonstration event.PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

With a couple of months to go before the Asean Para Games (APG), the athletes are squeezing in as much training as possible, in hopes of good performances at the Dec 3-9 event.

For the first time, host Singapore will be participating in goalball, with men's and women's teams formed early this year for the Games.

With only six months of training, however, men's team captain Marc Chiang feels it will be a big challenge to overcome their inexperience with a sport that requires the athlete to wear an eyeshade and roll a ball into goal past opponents, who try and block the attempt by listening to the bells inside the ball.

"Mastering the game is the hardest part because in order to get to a certain level, it really takes a lot of effort," the 33-year-old told The Straits Times during a goalball demonstration event yesterday.

"When players get injured, a different combination of team-mates are coming in to play, causing the dynamics to be different. It is not something you can build overnight."

Despite their inexperience, the goalball teams have been training hard, up to four times a week, for two hours per session.

But despite their rigorous training schedule, the teams are not setting any goals for themselves. They are just hoping to gain exposure.

As Chiang said: "We are not setting any targets as I think it only gives the team unnecessary pressure. We are just hoping to play and will try our best."

While Singapore's wheelchair basketball men's team have been around since 2007, they face a different challenge than the goalball teams - getting younger athletes into the game.

With the sport getting little exposure in the country, the team have found it difficult to attract new blood. Most of their players are above 40 years old.

Said team member Chua Chong Hoi, 57: "Playing against other countries in the region is difficult as their players are very young, and they have plenty of players to choose from."

His team-mate Vijay Vellasamy, also 57, added: "We have a long way to go from reaching regional standards because our players are mainly above 50, and it's time for us to step down."

Their Swiss head coach Brigette Lichtenberger hopes that the APG can be a good place to reach out to younger athletes.

She said: "My goal for the APG is not so much medal-orientated, but it is to expose the team and allow them to represent Singapore in a good way.

"In the process, we hope to get some young and keen players to participate and show them the benefit of participating in the sport."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2015, with the headline 'Goalball rookies training hard for Para Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe