Asian Games postponement set to disrupt Singapore athletes' plans

The Singapore National Olympic Council had selected a record 382 athletes for the now-postponed Asian Games. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Singapore's top swimmers, including Joseph Schooling, will be scrambling to find alternative competitions after Friday's (May 6) announcement that September's Asian Games has been postponed with no new dates confirmed.

Schooling, 26, was set to defend his two gold medals in the 50m and 100m butterfly at the Asiad in Hangzhou, China and had committed himself to racing at the upcoming May 12-23 SEA Games in Hanoi.

To focus on these two meets, he had previously said he would opt out of the June 18-July 3 World Championships in Budapest - a competition where he has clinched two bronze medals in 2015 and 2017 - and the July 28-Aug 8 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

At the 2014 edition in Glasgow, he became the first Singaporean to clinch a swimming medal at the Commonwealth Games, taking silver in the 100m fly final.

National head coach Gary Tan said the Singapore Swimming Association may now look at submitting more names for the Commonwealth Games or the World Championships subject to approval from the respective Games committees.

Mr Tan added: "We may increase the number of swimmers going to Commonwealth and we are also looking at the World Championships as an avenue (for competition).

"Today was the first day we got the news so we need to now sit down and evaluate what our next move is.

"There were a few (swimmers) we looked at and decided that we wanted them to just focus on Asian Games so now we will have to make certain adjustments.

"We may also need to look at whether there is a need to organise more local competitions just so that the swimmers can keep the momentum going and keep them in the groove of things before we embark on 2023.

"We have to react to these and find the best way forward."

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) last month had selected a record 382 athletes across 29 sports for the Asian Games.

An SNOC spokesman acknowledged the "challenging circumstances" for organisers of the Asian Games and noted: "We will await the new dates and work with the affected national sports associations on the selection-related matters.

"We hope our athletes continue to look forward to the Games with enthusiasm and are able to compete in peace of mind when the Games come."

Several Singapore athletes were disappointed by the Olympic Council of Asia's news but saw silver linings.

National windfoiler Marsha Shahrin, 21, said: "I was not really surprised. Now that it's confirmed, I feel quite relieved because it gives us more time to train and work on our weaknesses so that we can put up a better fight at the Games."

The delay was in fact welcome news for Singapore Under-23 football captain Jacob Mahler. He suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury last month and was set to miss the Games.

He said the team will "use the added time to give ourselves the best preparation possible" and added: "The postponement does buy me additional time to put in the recovery work needed to get back to full fitness and rejoin the team."

Constance Lien, a silver medallist in ju-jitsu at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, said Covid-19 has taught elite athletes to be flexible.

The Tokyo Olympics was pushed back a year from 2020 to 2021, as was the SEA Games from 2021 to this year.

Lien, 22, only returned to competitive action in January after taking a break from the sport last year and was looking forward to more events.

The 2019 world champion said: "To be honest, I am used to it. This is the new normal for athletes where we should expect postponements of events due to the pandemic. I have learnt to roll with the punches and accept it.

"There is nothing much I can do but what I can control is the training aspect of it and I will continue to train because this is something that I enjoy."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.