Singapore made a big splash yesterday, winning 10 gold medals in five sports, including two in underwater hockey which is making its SEA Games debut.
The men's team routed the Philippines 5-0 while the women also came up trumps against the hosts, 4-2, in the 4-on-4 competitions at the Vermosa Sports Hub on the outskirts of Manila.
National men's team coach David Lambert paid tribute to the players, saying: "It's the fourth dimension. Next time you are out playing soccer or basketball, try holding your breath. That's what these guys have to train for. They have to train when oxygen depletes and they actually have to play hard."
It took Singapore three minutes into the seven-minute half to break the deadlock, with Liu Dongliang opening the floodgates after a good drive. Lucas Ong made it 2-0 with a good flick in the sixth minute before Kok Kiat Han extended the lead to 3-0 just before half-time.
Kok put the game to bed with two more goals at the end of a one-sided affair that contrasted with their 2-2 round-robin draw on Monday.
But Singapore skipper Jonathan Chan was not surprised, saying: "I knew we had it in us. All the games have been very close and competitive but we peaked at the right moment in the final.
"To win gold means a lot to us because underwater hockey was not a mainstream sport before, and to have it included in the SEA Games is very fulfilling."
Both the men (2009, 2015, 2017) and women (2011 and 2013) have taken turns to become Asian champions over the years and, not to be outdone at the SEA Games, the women also did their part.
A first-minute penalty helped to calm the nerves before Christina Tham made it 2-0 four minutes later. Captain Pin Cheoh's 10th-minute effort followed by an excellent break by Roeswita Leono Liaw secured the gold, even though the hosts scored two late goals.
About underwater hockey
1 THROWN INTO THE DEEP
Underwater hockey is literally a breathtaking sport. Decked in caps, gloves, flippers and equipped with snorkels and a 35cm curved stick, athletes dive into a 2m deep pool, jostling against opponents with the aim of smashing a 1.5kg puck into a 3m wide goal. All this, while holding their breath.
2 OLD IS GOLD
Age is not a major factor. The youngest player in the Singapore women's team of 12 is 21-year-old Chua Yi Ying, and the oldest is 50-year-old Christina Tham, who scored in their final triumph. They also have four players in their 40s.
In the men's team, three are in their 40s, with the oldest being Samuel Wong, 48.
3 KIWIS ARE WORLD CHAMPS
The Underwater Hockey World Championships have been held biennially since 1980. New Zealand are both men's and women's reigning world champions.
The Republic had won Monday's round-robin game 3-2.
Cheoh said: "It's a privilege and honour to compete and win with this fantastic team. The Filipinos played really well, they picked up their game and put up a great challenge. Our girls stepped up and we can only get better."
National women's coach Lena Plambeck added: "It feels so good. Even though they say it's all about training and playing our game, it's such a sweet experience to get a gold at the end of it. It's fantastic.
"Even though it's an amateur sport, the girls have been so professional. They have been so focused and very easy to coach. They listen to instructions, take it on board, try things, they have been a wonderful team to work with."
The champions have no time to rest on their laurels with the 6-on-6 competition also starting yesterday.
Chan said: "Half the job is done. We are savouring the moment but also focusing on the next gold."
Plambeck added: "There are more players in the 6x6, new tactics come into play, and we will have to do something different."