SEA Games: Sailor Colin Cheng harbours no doubts about his routine

National sailor Colin Cheng, who will be making his SEA Games debut despite medals from three Asian Games, has been training in Sydney's harbour.
National sailor Colin Cheng, who will be making his SEA Games debut despite medals from three Asian Games, has been training in Sydney's harbour.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Over the past five years, Colin Cheng has become used to a certain routine and accustomed himself to a familiar sight.

After rigging up his Laser Standard dinghy, the sailor launches it from the Woollahra Sailing Club, sails into Rose Bay and, within minutes, trains with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as his backdrop.

Having been based Down Under since 2010 as he pursues both studies and training, the 25-year-old spends only about a month each year back in Singapore.

It is why, after 16 years of elite sailing and the past decade as one of Singapore sailing's best, Cheng has surprisingly never been to a SEA Games - until now.

"The bigger picture for me is the Olympic Games, so my schedule is planned towards that... I think that's why it's been difficult to find the opportunity," he told The Sunday Times yesterday.

Academic commitments at the University of New South Wales, where Cheng is a final-year nanotechnology undergraduate, as well as the timings of other high-level regattas, have often proven to be roadblocks.

But there probably could not have been a better occasion for time and geography to become aligned to allow the 2012 Olympian to make his debut at the biennial Games.

He said: "It's a special occasion, the 50th year of Singapore's independence... I spent a good 10 years growing up and learning to sail here at the National Sailing Centre. I haven't done a whole lot of sailing here since I left for Sydney.

"To actually have a major competition in our own waters - that's pretty special.

"It makes you think how much the National Sailing Centre has changed - it's almost as if every time I come back here, there's something different about this place."

Cheng, like many of his teammates in the SingaporeSailing squad, will be a marked man at the Games.

After all, not many in the field can better his collection of a gold, a silver and a bronze from three Asian Games. Or the 15th-place finish he posted at the London Olympics, the Republic's best showing at that level.

"The SEA Games are not any less of a challenge," he insisted.

"It doesn't matter who you are racing with - you still have to sail well. Processes are what matter because they are what eventually lead to good results."

With a squad made up of several former world champions in youth classes like the Laser 4.7 and 420, and a reputation as a world Optimist powerhouse, the Singapore sailors know the expectations on them to deliver in as many of the 20 events as possible.

Said Cheng: "I guess there is that pressure, and that always will be there at these major Games.

"That's partly a good reason why these events are still good training, because we have to learn how to handle pressure."

As someone who has not sailed regularly in Singapore for the past few years, Cheng will have to handle elements unique to the waters off East Coast - its strong currents, the storms, and even the downdraught of the planes that fly overhead every few minutes.

But it will not take him long to adapt, for it is precisely these elements - the humidity, the tankers anchored nearby and a view of the Singapore Flyer in the distance - that he will always remember as home.

maychen@sph.com.sg