The 36-sport countdown continues with canoeing and synchronised swimming

Mental strength the final challenge on water

IN A grungy boat shed on one bank of the Kallang Basin, pop music is resounding from speakers within the concrete walls.

It is 10.40am, and the 19-strong national canoeing team have just ended a training session on water. But instead of resting before the evening session begins at 5pm, the athletes are pumping iron.

Some are taking turns to bench-press up to 95kg. Around two stations, camaraderie is evident - those not lifting weights remain close by, to count the number of repetitions for their team-mates.

But it is not all about the muscles. As the team's preparations progress to the final stage, coach Balazs Babella says the final aspect the team need to strengthen is their own individual and collective state of mind.

"Everything will be about that (competition) day - how good they can do from what they already have," says the 37-year-old Hungarian, who has been coaching the national team since 2008.

"Mostly it would be mental. Physically, I have to say we are ready. And most of the events are very promising."

Some of the potential could come from Brandon Ooi, who has yet to earn that elusive gold since his Games debut in 2011. For the 21-year-old, his belief is as robust as his physique.

"I want to at least win this. For me, it's an 'at least'. SEA Games is the minimum," he said, grinning.

At his Games debut in 2011, he won two bronzes in the K2 200m and 1,000m races with Clarence Chua and Daniel Ang respectively. In 2013, he won another bronze in the K1 500m.

While his then-partners have since left the national team, Ooi will reprise his role in the K2 1,000m with Bill Lee, and the pair will also compete in the K4 200m with Muhammad Syaheenul Aiman Nasiman and Jori Lim.

Having competed in both short and long distances, Ooi will be drawing on his strengths as a sprinter to carry him through the 1,000m race.

Said the kayaker, whose goal is to compete at the 2020 Olympics: "I'm preserving the fast burst towards the end.

"With 300m to 400m of burst, the idea is to use that to break the other teams."

For Babella, a former K4 200m world champion in 2005 and 2007, next month's Games is a chance for him to correct his "mistake" at the 2013 Myanmar Games, where he took the blame after the team won only two out of their targeted three golds.

This time, he says he is more strategic. Instead of assigning events to the best sportsmen, Babella is going for the maximum number of gold medals by focusing each athlete on one or two events he thinks they can excel in.

And he is confident that the men's performance will surprise this time.

"It's always harder for the guys to perform because the competition is harder... Previously we were expecting the girls to bring the glory from all the competitions, but now I believe the guys can match that," he said.

In Myanmar, Stephenie Chen and Suzanne Seah won two golds in the women's K2 200m and 500m races. The pair will be defending their titles at the Marina Channel next month.

When asked if the women's gold medal wins are a source of motivation for the men, Ooi said: "We all have the same goals and we all want to win the gold. Maybe there's slightly more motivation there, but if anyone wins we will be happy."

The team's largest medal haul was in 2011, with two golds, five silvers and three bronzes - the number of medals to beat this year, he added.

Hoping for more golds this year, Chen is psyching herself up, saying: "Physically I'm already there. There's not much I can improve on from now till then.

"It's all about the mind now."

ngxtc@sph.com.sg


Canoeing

GOLD MEDALS ON OFFER: 17

Indonesia and Thailand are expected to continue their rivalry as the top canoeing Asean nations. The two countries have consistently dominated the canoeing medal chart, each winning at least four golds at the last Games in Myanmar.

WATCH OUT FOR: Stephenie Chen and Suzanne Seah

The duo will be defending their gold medal titles in the women's K2 200m and 500m races. But Chen, who will be competing in the K1 500m for the first time, will have to cope with two 500m races on the same day, one hour apart.

TEAM SINGAPORE

Men

  • Lucas Teo (K1 1,000m)
  • Mervyn Toh (K1 200m, K2 200m)
  • Brandon Ooi (K2 1,000m, K4 200m)
  • Bill Lee (K2 1,000m, K4 200m)
  • Muhammad Syaheenul Aiman Nasiman (K2 200m, K4 200m)
  • Tay Zi Qiang, Benjamin Low, Luke Yap, Jonathan Chong (K4 1,000m)
  • Jori Lim (K4 200m)
  • Chong Koi Kiat (C1 1,000m, C2 200m)
  • Tan Chin Chuen (C1 200m, C2 200m)

Women

  • Stephenie Chen (K1 500m, K2 500m)
  • Sarah Chen (K1 200m, K4 200m, 500m)
  • Suzanne Seah (K2 200m, 500m)
  • Annabelle Ng, Geraldine Lee, Soh Sze Ying (K4 200m, 500m)
  • Christine Chia (C1 200m)