THE DEBUTANTS | MUHAMMAD DANIEL KEI YAZID, SAILING

Little Daniel vows not to let team-mates down

The third of a five-part series on Singaporeans making their SEA Games debut

MUHAMMAD Daniel Kei Yazid is a Primary 6 pupil on the edge of his seat, waiting to sit his biggest test yet.

Except that he is not in a still, stifling examination hall.

Instead, the 11-year-old is balancing his body on a boat in the waters off the East Coast, reading the winds and deliberating his next manoeuvre. That is where this young sailor is trying to prove himself.

The Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) pupil is about to make his SEA Games debut amid the buzz of the event, held on home soil for the first time in 22 years.

But it is neither the jitters of competing in his first major Games, nor the attention he is getting as the youngest athlete in Singapore's 749-strong contingent that is his biggest worry.

Competing in the team Optimist event, Daniel is more concerned with making a worthy contribution - especially when there is the scrutiny of expectant onlookers, watching and waiting for Singapore's Optimist sailors to deliver gold.

Gold, because flying Singapore's flag on the Under-15 dinghy means you come from a succession of world-beaters in this particular category.

Singapore have been one of the world's powerhouses in the Optimist class in recent years, and even kept a stranglehold on both the individual and team titles at the world championships from 2011 to 2013.

"I'm the least experienced in the team," said Daniel, whose biggest outing was last year's Dutch Youth Regatta, where he clinched a bronze in the Under-12 Optimist event.

"There is pressure because I don't want to let the team down, especially my coaches."

A lot has changed for the young sailor since he was first taught the ropes by his father at the age of seven.

He has gone from being petrified when alone out at sea, regularly coming last at regattas, to beating more experienced team-mates to win the Optimist event at this year's national youth championships.

SingaporeSailing's 2014 Rookie of the Year has also upped the ante in training, taking rest days just twice a week and squeezing in gym workouts after returning to shore.

Said his father Yazid, a 41-year-old businessman: "He doesn't really talk about nerves and I don't interfere with his training. Sometimes you can sense the pressure, but he doesn't really show it.

"He's a very focused boy - he sets his goals in everything he does and he has a lot of desire."

Said Daniel: "The biggest challenge I'll have to overcome is my feelings, or else I will have negative thoughts and negative thinking.

"The SEA Games can teach me to handle pressure during a regatta, and how to control my emotions.

"It's going to be more about teamwork and not yourself. Everyone has to contribute to the team... in a team event you can't just win by yourself."

So while the Games will be a test of this young athlete's mettle, at least he knows that this is not a problem he has to tackle himself.

maychen@sph.com.sg

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