Gymnasts find their rhythm at last

S'pore win first gold on last day in group all-around event

IT WAS a string of frustrating near misses for Singapore's gymnastics team last week, with three silvers but no golds to show for.

It all boiled down to the final event of the competition for the rhythmic gymnasts to try and end the country's hunt for a first gold in the sport at these SEA Games.

They delivered just that in front of an expectant home crowd at the Bishan Sports Hall yesterday, winning the inaugural group all-around competition with a 27.700-point showing, edging out Malaysia by a mere 0.300 point.

Thailand finished third with a 22.150 score.

Last week, Singapore were pipped by their neighbours in their bid to secure a fourth consecutive gold in the women's artistic gymnastics team final.

But there was no denying the Singaporeans this time.

Twice, the Malaysians laid down the gauntlet with graceful routines but both times the Republic's gymnasts held their nerve with much poise and artistry.

While the quintet - Dawne Chua, Noelle Goh, Edlyn Ho, Alison Tang and captain Ann Sim - might be of unknown quantity, their exuberance and execution won the hearts of fans and judges.

Their artistic gymnastics team-mates were in the stands, cheering them on with every elegant toss of apparatus into the air.

Upon finishing their final routine, they waited for a few minutes before their score was revealed to indicate that they were in the lead.

Still, it was tense as they had to wait for Thailand to perform.

But joy erupted in the sports hall the moment confirmation came through that Singapore had emerged as champions.

"It's a historic moment for the (rhythmic) discipline as it's our first medal. It's really memorable," said Sim.

The Singapore Polytechnic Year 3 accountancy student believes that their triumph can herald a new start for the sport she loves.

"We haven't got as much attention as compared to the artistic discipline," the 20-year-old said.

"(But) this is the turning point because people will start to realise how graceful and elegant it is."

Malaysian Gymnastics Federation vice-president Petrina Low was left to rue over what might have been had her charges performed to expectations.

"Our second routine's score was a bit low. Nevertheless, the mistakes in the first routine jeopardised the gold," she said.

"In two years' time, we'll bounce back."

Earlier yesterday, however, it looked business as usual for Malaysia as they dominated proceedings in the individual all-around final.

Koi Sie Yan and Shasangari S. Nagarajan clinched joint golds, each scoring 60.250 points.

Thailand's Panjarat Prawatyotin took bronze with 57.350.

"It's actually surprising and unbelievable. To win two golds instead of a gold and a silver - it's a miracle," said 16-year-old Shasangari.

Bishan has certainly proved a happy hunting ground for the Malaysians as they finished the competition with five golds.

But for the fans who thronged the venue over six days of competition, Singapore's solitary gold is likely to mean the most.

The decibel levels were high, the placards were on display and the fans were a sea of red in support of the local gymnasts.

As Sim aptly put it: "We expected the crowd to be huge and very supportive.

"All we wanted was to (channel) their energy to focus on the mat and boost our morale."

It certainly did and the team will come away with renewed hope for the future, confident that they can tackle greater challenges.

ocharles@sph.com.sg

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