Sailing: Audrey Yong awarded berth to compete at Rio

Audrey Yong has received an unused quota place to compete in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She will be the Republic's first woman windsurfer to compete at the quadrennial Games.
Audrey Yong has received an unused quota place to compete in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She will be the Republic's first woman windsurfer to compete at the quadrennial Games.PHOTO: SINGSOC/ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

Already fielding a bumper crop of nine athletes at the Olympic Games, the Singapore Sailing Federation (SSF) will now have one surprise addition to its squad.

Windsurfer Audrey Yong will also compete at the Aug 5-21 Rio Games, after she was nominated by the SSF to take up the unused women's RS:X quota place awarded by world governing body World Sailing.

Her nomination was endorsed by the Singapore National Olympic Council yesterday, bringing the total number of sailors bound for Brazil to 10 across six classes.

Having narrowly missed qualifying automatically for the quadrennial Games, the 21-year-old was surprised by the call-up.

Said Yong, a SEA Games champion last year and a bronze medallist at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010: "It feels surreal to have been given the chance to represent Singapore at the Olympics. I still can't believe it.

"I started windsurfing eight years ago and I've never looked back since. It's been an amazing experience and I'm honoured to have been given the opportunity."

Unused quota places are slots that are redistributed by World Sailing to the next best-ranked nations if they are not taken up by qualified teams.

New Zealand, for instance, qualified for the women's RS:X but did not nominate any athlete due to its stringent selection criterion demanding competing sailors be capable of finishing among the top.

Singapore's berth came by virtue of windsurfer Nicole Lim's result at last year's World Championships in Oman, when she finished 26th in the silver fleet.

Lim did not continue her campaign after that event, with Yong the only windsurfer to subsequently register her interest in campaigning for the Summer Games.

Yong, just named Sailor of the Year by the national association, came close at the Asian Championships in March, finishing behind Thai rival Siripon Kaewduangngam who took the only berth on offer.

Coach Sakda Sakulfaeng, who had only days earlier lamented to The Straits Times how close SingaporeSailing had been in sending windsurfers in both the men's and women's events, was overjoyed.

The challenge ahead, he said, was in helping Yong regain her fitness, since she had switched her focus to an internship at Marina Bay Sands for the last few months.

He said: "Audrey will start full-time training immediately. I don't want to push her too much in the gym because we don't want her to get injured, so it'll mostly be training on the water to build up her fitness. She's got the technique."

Yong will be the first Singapore woman windsurfer to compete at the Olympics. She joins team-mate Leonard Ong as the first windsurfers at the quadrennial event since the late Kelly Chan took part in the 1984 Los Angeles edition.

Singapore will be Asia's second-largest sailing contingent in Rio, one behind Japan's 11 sailors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Yong awarded berth to compete at Rio'. Print Edition | Subscribe