Judokas get to grips with task

Team of 5 veterans and 5 debutants eye 5 medals, one more than in 2013

WEE Pui Seng has already walked away from judo once.

A silver medallist at the 2009 SEA Games and a bronze winner in the 2003 edition, the 29-year-old represented Singapore in four consecutive Games before deciding to focus on a career as a salesman for a glass manufacturing company in Japan.

Last August, he decided to take a leap of faith and return to Singapore for selection trials for the Games.

Stunningly, he beat reigning Games champion Ho Han Boon in the trials to earn another shot at glory in the Over-100kg category next month.

"I am already 29. I believe that my body will start to deteriorate after 30 so it is really now or never," he said.

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"The SEA Games is on home soil this year and there will be more excitement. I know that I am far from my very best form, but since I got past the trials, I have to give it my best shot."

His return brings experience to a team hoping to build on Ho's success, as his was their first gold in 24 years.

This Games, Singapore is sending a mix of five veterans and five debutants, and they are tasked to win five medals next month - one better than their four-medal (one gold, one silver and two bronzes) showing in 2013.

While Wee tries to step up a gear from semi-retirement, female judoka Ang Xuan Yi is set on winning gold before she joins the workforce after completing her studies at the Singapore Institute of Management.

The 26-year-old is competing in her fifth Games and already has two bronzes to show for her efforts. However, an ankle ligament tear last year cost her an Asian Games appearance and almost ended her judo career.

Yet, she says: "(Missing the Asian Games) was devastating and saddening. But I took a few days off from training, reflected and decided I really loved judo.

"I worked very hard in rehabilitation. The SEA Games gold is something that I really want to get before I start work and settle down."

She is competing in the Under-57kg class.

While those two veterans soldier on, 19-year-old debutant Lee You Ren found further inspiration during a recent one-month training camp in Mongolia.

"The Mongolians never stop. When they're tired, they go even harder," he said.

Ang, who also attended the camp, added: "I've seen one Mongolian whose right arm was bandaged but who still trained using just one healthy arm."

The Singapore Judo Federation also hired former Mongolian national champion Khishigbayar Buuveibaata to train the team.

Said the 29-year-old, who has worked as assistant coach since December: "Kids in Mongolia train so hard so that they can change their lives.

"In Third World countries, not everybody's life is as comfortable as that of Singaporeans.

"It is important that all of us train to be the best, to earn respect and prestige."

And this is what the judo team will be hoping to use the Singapore Games for - to inspire a new generation of Singaporeans to take up the sport and help fly the flag at future Games.

Already, You Ren - who is competing in the Under-66kg category - is embracing this attitude.

"It's my first time; nobody really knows me," he said. "They see me and think, 'Who's this guy? Maybe I can just beat him up.'

"They don't really know who I am. I want to, from the first match, strike fear in everyone."

chongcjy@sph.com.sg

liminc@sph.com.sg


Judo

GOLD MEDALS ON OFFER: 12

Traditionally, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines are major contenders.

The Singapore judokas hope to better their previous medal haul at the 2013 Games of four medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronzes).

WATCH OUT FOR:

Wee Pui Seng

The Singaporean is in good stead to steal the Over-100kg gold, having defeated reigning gold medallist of the 2013 Games, Ho Han Boon, during the internal trials.

Tania Forichon Su Wen

The youngest debutante on her team, she is a rising judo star eager to contend for a spot in the finals.

She was the Under-63kg champion at the 2014 South East Asian Judo Championships.

TEAM SINGAPORE

Men

  • Wee Pui Seng (Over1-00kg)
  • Timothy Loh Yu (Shiai - 100kg)
  • Gabriel Yang Yi (Shiai - 90kg)
  • Gary Chow (Shiai - 81kg)
  • Walter Soh (Shiai - 73kg)
  • Lee You Ren (Shiai - 66kg)

Women

  • Soo Qin Qi (Shiai - 70kg)
  • Tania Forichon Su Wen (Shiai - 63kg)
  • Tan Yee Chin (Shiai - 52kg)
  • Ang Xuan Yi (Shiai - 57kg)