Olympics: Rio experience to shape Team SG strategy for future meets

Above: Surrounded by athletes' family members and friends, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu clasping hands with sailor Sara Tan as the final batch of Team Singapore's Olympic athletes arrived at Changi Airport yesterday.
Above: Surrounded by athletes' family members and friends, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu clasping hands with sailor Sara Tan as the final batch of Team Singapore's Olympic athletes arrived at Changi Airport yesterday.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Above Sailor Colin Cheng said of the Rio experience: "We probably came away with lessons learnt."
Above Sailor Colin Cheng said of the Rio experience: "We probably came away with lessons learnt." PHOTO: REUTERS

Athletes and administrators alike take stock as Republic aims to capitalise on momentum

Sailor Colin Cheng is already a veteran of two Olympic Games. But even though he turns 27 in two weeks, still young in a sport with a long career runway, the waters are looking murky in terms of Tokyo 2020.

"For now, it's time to go back and take stock and reflect on this campaign," he told the media after his flight touched down at Changi Airport early yesterday. "I haven't quite decided yet if I want to campaign for another one."

Cheng, who competed in the men's Laser event, finished 20th out of 46 competitors, falling short of his aim to break the top 10 after placing 15th at the London Games in 2012.

"I did not perform to my greatest potential," he admitted.

"It was a good experience, and we campaigned long and hard for this. It's hard to believe it's all over - I've campaigned for eight years and it's all come down to 11/2 weeks of sailing," he added.

"Rio posed a very unique challenge with conditions both inshore and offshore, and we did spend a lot of time trying to acclimatise and get used to these conditions. But it was a difficult game out there and we tried our best, but we probably came away with lessons learnt and (awareness of) what needs to be done in the future."

Out of his 10 races, Cheng's best performances were fifth- and ninth-place finishes in his first and last race respectively. Although he finished 10th in the sixth race, he was disqualified because of an early start.

He said: "I had some decent comebacks in the races from difficult positions, but at the end of the day, if you can't get the beginning part of the race and you're not in the top 10 at the first mark, it's pretty hard fighting back in a fleet of this quality."

His fellow sailors Justin Liu and Denise Lim, both first-time Olympians, also missed out on their goal of making the top 10, albeit narrowly.

The duo, who competed in the mixed Nacra 17 (multihull) event, finished 11th out of 20.

But the debutants remain in high spirits, thrilled to have been able to rub shoulders in Rio with some of the world's best sailors.

"It was a very good experience because we managed to sail with all the top sailors - the winner of our class was a 54-year-old guy who had beaten lung cancer," Lim told The Straits Times.

"His experience shows that you can sail at any age. It's an amazing story for everyone."

Chef de mission Low Teo Ping believes that Team Singapore's performance at this year's Games will set the nation in good stead for future sporting events.

"It has set the tone for us to do a rethink of exactly how we want to see sports move forward at a very high level," he told members of the media after arriving at Changi Airport.

"It has been proven that you have a Joseph Schooling who can do it - I'm sure others can follow suit. It bodes well for the future of sport in Singapore."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin agreed, citing the building momentum in the Singapore sports scene over the past few years.

"It's not as if with one gold medal, suddenly everything will change. With the Spex scholarship and the supporting programmes put in place - that has worked really well," said Mr Tan, who is also the Singapore National Olympic Council's president.

"We need to take stock after every Games - what else can we do differently? How do we develop our talent? How do we talent-spot individuals earlier, where we can?

"The athletes put in a lot of effort - on the day some of them would have been able to do well but sometimes they didn't quite do it, so let's see what went wrong, what went well and how we can build from it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Rio to shape strategy for future meets'. Print Edition | Subscribe