Synchronised swimming: Singapore Swimming Association plans to build on sport's success at SEA Games

Singapore Swimming Association's Hannah Chiang (left) and Rachel Thean turning on the style to win the open duet free routine final on the last day of National Synchronised Swimming Championships.
Singapore Swimming Association's Hannah Chiang (left) and Rachel Thean turning on the style to win the open duet free routine final on the last day of National Synchronised Swimming Championships.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SSA hopes to build on SEA Games success by raising awareness and widening talent pool

National synchronised swimmer Debbie Soh may not have been a participant at yesterday's Singapore National Synchronised Swimming Championships, but the 19-year-old was still kept busy at the OCBC Aquatic Centre as young swimmers approached her for photographs, or simply to say hello.

Team-mates Vivien Tai, Rachel Thean and Hannah Chiang - whom Soh was supporting as they competed in the three-day event - proved to be popular as well, with 15-year-old Vivien taken by surprise when kids greeted her by name even though she had not directly interacted with them before.

Such is the impact of the Singapore synchronised swimmers' performance at the August SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where the Republic were the top performers in the sport with three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

Singapore Swimming Association's (SSA) vice-president (synchronised swimming) Steve Chew intends to build on this to generate more interest here.

The 54-year-old, who took over the post from Philip Lee at the beginning of the month, told The Straits Times: "After the SEA Games, people have started to notice synchronised swimming's presence... we definitely have to create more awareness and engage them more through clinics, maybe some conducted by our girls.

"We want to widen the base not only for our swimmers, but also volunteers, judges and technical officials, so as to get more people interested."

A free synchronised swimming trial will be conducted for the public at Our Tampines Hub next Sunday, and selection trials will be held in January as part of efforts to grow the base of swimmers.

Chew, who was vice-president for synchronised swimming from 2012 to 2014, also hopes to organise more local competitions. There are now only two competitions each year - the inter-school tournament and the national championships.

He hopes a local inter-club tournament can be added.

He noted that there have been more teams participating at the national championships - the Nov 24-26 event featured its biggest number of teams (13) from local and international clubs, while last year's edition attracted seven teams.

"Our local swimmers train so hard but there are only two competitions in Singapore, so we need to create more opportunities for them to compete," added Chew.

He believes that bigger exposure will naturally lead to good results.

"With a bigger base of swimmers, we can maintain our good performance in the region and excel in Asia as well as internationally, in the Fina competitions," he said.

Singapore's synchronised swimmers are on track to meeting the qualifying criteria for next year's Asian Games, where the target is minimally a sixth-placed finish.

Chew admitted it would be difficult to match Asian powerhouses like Japan and China, but said: "We need to take stock of where we are now and move on - we've already proven ourselves in the last two SEA Games, and we want to continue this momentum and show our presence on the international stage."

Rachel, 15, hopes the national team's achievements can inspire more people to join them.

"Most people don't want to join because they're scared they can't balance their academic commitments and life as a synchronised swimmer," said the Singapore Chinese Girls' School student, who was part of the gold-winning team at the SEA Games in August.

"But we're trying to show that even though we went overseas many times, we can still win the SEA Games gold and manage our studies relatively well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2017, with the headline 'Synchro swimming on the up'. Print Edition | Subscribe