SEA Games 2019: 56 golds realistic target for Singapore

The Straits Times predicts a creditable haul, just short of the away record of 58 from KL

A SEA Games banner is seen outside the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Nov 28, 2019. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Team Singapore, like the hosts of the Philippine SEA Games, have not enjoyed the best of starts as the biennial event kicks off officially today with the opening ceremony at the Philippines Arena in Bulacan.

Amid reports of transport and logistical issues, Singapore's water polo, netball, floorball and football athletes were in action ahead of the Nov 30 to Dec 11 Games.

As Typhoon Kammuri threatens to bear down on the Philippines this weekend, it appears only the floorball teams are treading comfortably above water, with the men's water polo team and football team sputtering and the netball team suffering a loss to arch-rivals Malaysia yesterday.

While Singapore will field their largest away contingent of 666 athletes in 48 sports at the 30th SEA Games, the odds of bettering their record away haul of 58 golds from the last edition in Kuala Lumpur are stacked against them.

The Straits Times predicts that Singapore could capture just 56.

With new sports such as sambo, jiu-jitsu and underwater hockey adding to the bulging calendar of 56, Games organisers have had to cut the number of events in many sports, with bowling, shooting and table tennis - traditional "gold mines" for Singapore - among the victims.

Still, that is a noteworthy feat as it would be only the fourth time that the Republic have reached the 50-gold mark (in addition to the 2017 tally, both home Games in 1993 and 2015 had 50 and 84 golds respectively).

And to achieve this at three consecutive SEA Games can only bode well for Singapore sport ahead of its bigger mission at next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Juliana Seow, Singapore's chef de mission for the SEA Games, was cautious about their gold-medal hopes, warning that several athletes would be competing in sports that they are "not traditionally familiar with".

ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG ST GRAPHICS

She added: "This also means that we have little experience and intelligence in them, making it challenging to ascertain where our competitors stand against their counterparts.

"The inclusion of these new sports has contributed to the boost of debutants (58 per cent) in the Team Singapore contingent."

Swimming and table tennis are still expected to do the heavy lifting. Both sports combined for 24 gold medals in 2017, or 41 per cent of the haul.

Olympic champion Joseph Schooling and the Quah siblings (Ting Wen, Zheng Wen and Jing Wen) led the medal charge in Kuala Lumpur as the swimmers took home 19 out of the 40 golds, while the table tennis players won five out of seven titles.

This time, there are only four table tennis titles - men's and women's singles and doubles - and the team have been hit by the retirement of veteran Gao Ning.

Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy said: "We are within the range of (19 golds) and will do the best we can.

"Our goal is to be the No. 1 country at the Games (in swimming) and our nearest threats are Vietnam."

But the swimmers will be missing retired breaststroke specialist Roanne Ho, though one familiar face, Amanda Lim, is still intending to make waves.

The winner of 16 golds at the Games since 2007 is gunning for a sixth consecutive title in the 50m freestyle and will also feature in the relays.

The 26-year-old, one of the oldest in the 21-member swimming squad, said: "My goal is to go for another title this year… I want to do well and better my personal best (25.38sec for the 50m free)."

While modern pentathlon, sambo and jiu-jitsu athletes are newer members of the fold, they are not in the Philippines just for the ride.

Former judoka Gary Chow, who won a silver and two bronzes in the sport at previous Games, will be gunning for his first gold in sambo.

There are also high hopes for modern pentathlete Shermaine Tung and Constance Lien, who won the women's blue belt featherweight world title at the World International Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Federation Championships in May.

ST predicts that the new sports of jiu-jitsu (3), e-sports (1), sambo (1), skateboarding (1) and modern pentathlon (1) could win seven golds this time, or 12 per cent of the predicted 56-gold haul.

Like the Kuala Lumpur Games where Singapore won surprise golds in cricket, cycling and golf, Seow expects some early Christmas gifts.

She added: "We've been surprised before at major Games and these are inevitable and often rewarding.

"Our athletes and officials are well prepared to tackle what comes their way and we hope they seize every opportunity to fly the Singapore flag high in the Philippines."

• Additional reporting by Nicole Chia

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2019, with the headline SEA Games 2019: 56 golds realistic target for Singapore. Subscribe