SINGAPORE - Singapore thrower Du Xianhui will turn out in national colours again next month at the SEA Games, four years since she last represented her adopted country.
The 36-year-old was one of 29 track and field athletes entered when the list of the final contingent for the Kuala Lumpur event was released over the weekend.
She will be competing in the shot put and discus - both events in which she has been crowned champion at the biennial Games before.
Du met the shot put qualifying mark in January this year when she competed in a varsity-level meet held at Beijing Union University. She posted 13.73m, surpassing the bronze-medal benchmark from the last Games (13.31m) that she needed to meet.
While Du's inclusion in the finalised squad may come as a surprise to many, especially given her history of a testy relationship with Singapore Athletics (SA), it is understood that officials got in touch with the Liaoning native late last year.
Du, who last competed for Singapore at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and is now based in Beijing, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The 1998 world junior championships shot put silver medallist first arrived in Singapore in 1999 as a promising young athlete under the Foreign Sports Talent scheme.
She left Singapore on acrimonious terms in 2007 after falling out with SA management then, vowing never to return to Singapore - or the sport. She started a clothing business, got married and also had a son.
Du was persuaded out of retirement by SA officials to return to compete at the 2013 Games, where she won a shot put silver and a discus bronze. She did not compete at the last Games on home soil.
SA president Ho Mun Cheong told The Straits Times that he saw no reason why Du should not be entered for competition this time.
He said: "She may not be training as intensively as before but she qualified on merit.
"She is a medal contender and should be supported."
Du's 13.73m effort from January would have earned her a silver medal at the last SEA Games in Singapore, behind team-mate 39-year-old Zhang Guirong (14.60m). But it is a considerable drop from the 14.92m she posted for silver in 2013. It is an even sharper decline from the 18.20m she threw to land gold in 2003.
When asked how it reflects on the local throwing scene, when the Republic's only women entrants at the Games are two foreign-born athletes into their late 30s who return to compete only for the SEA Games, SA president Ho admitted it is hard to attract throwers and build up a pool.
Wan Lay Chi, the 2011 shot put silver medallist, has retired while 2015 discus bronze medallist Hannah Lee has no plans to compete at the elite level again after a shoulder operation late last year.
"It's a much smaller pool in throwing because you need the bulk and we don't have many who have that size. In the Singapore culture and environment, very often the athletes also choose their studies and careers," said Ho.
He named recent Asean Schools Games discus champion Jasmin Phua, 16, as a bright spark for the future. "Hopefully, we can groom more and send them to compete at SEA Games in the future.
"It's a work in progress - you just have to keep working at it."