Silat looking to youth to rekindle glory days

THEY may boast two world champions in their line-up, but if the Singapore silat community is hoping for the sport to return to its previous heights, then it will need its less-heralded athletes to shine at next month's SEA Games.

In 14 editions, silat has won 16 golds. From 1991 to 2003, a total of seven Games, it won 11 golds - an average of 1.57 golds per Games. In recent years, this figure has dwindled. Over the past five editions, the sport has delivered only four golds - an average of 0.8 gold per Games.

This year, Persisi chief Sheik Alau'ddin is tipping the sport to bag at least three golds for the first time in five Games. He is banking on Nur Alfian, 18, Muhammad Iqbal, 21, as well as world champion Sheik Farhan, 17, to deliver the goods.

Even though the team have an average age of just 20, the team manager thinks that his young charges are in a good position to meet his expectations.

He said: "These young athletes have nothing to lose. The pressure is there but they just have to enjoy and compete in front of the home crowd. Hopefully, we will be able to clinch more than three golds from the Games with the potential in the team."

Despite an early setback to the team's gold-medal hopes after the withdrawal of former world champion Shakir Juanda from the contact event due to a knee injury, the silat federation has Class J (90-95kg) world champion Sheik Farhan to fill in for Shakir in the Class H (80-85kg) category.

The teenager was relieved when the Singapore National Olympic Council approved Persisi's application for Farhan to replace Shakir after initially rejecting the appeal for him to compete in the Games' Class J category.

Said Farhan, who has since dropped to 84kg: "I felt bad when Shakir had to withdrew from the Games but now that I'll be fighting, I'm aiming for gold. There is no point in aiming for anything less.

"Each match will be like a final for me with the cheer of the home crowd to spur me on, unlike the other matches which take place overseas."

Iqbal, who is competing in his third SEA Games, is desperate to make up for his mistakes in the artistic category. In 2011, he dropped his keris during his performance and the error left him without a medal.

He fancies his chances after winning silver in January's World Championships and gold in April's South-east Asian Championships.

He said: "I've had a new coach (Hamdi Muhamad) since last year and aside from improving my techniques and moves, he reminded me that only I can make the effort to change myself.

"I think my results have reflected the progression of my improvement and hopefully I will perform well especially in front of my family and the home crowd."

The stakes are higher for Alfian. Despite his tender age, the Class F (70-75kg) fighter already holds a gold medal from the 2013 SEA Games and will be looking to retain his title on home soil.

However, he received an early wake-up call after being knocked out by Vietnamese Tran Dinh Nam in the quarter-finals of the World Championships in Phuket.

He said: "It was a timely reminder that I am not dominant in my class yet so I am motivated to be fully prepared for the Games.

"All of us are going to fight on home soil for the first time but we are ready to fight till the last bell in front of everyone."

ljeremy@sph.com.sg