Athletics: Hamkah Afik and Melvin Tan rejoin national set-up

 Former national relay coaches Hamkah Afik (left) and Melvin Tan (right) will return to Singapore Athletics' coaching set-up from next year.
Former national relay coaches Hamkah Afik (left) and Melvin Tan (right) will return to Singapore Athletics' coaching set-up from next year. ST PHOTO: NICOLE CHIA

They had previously clashed with each other, but track and field coaches Hamkah Afik and Melvin Tan have vowed to put past disagreements behind them as they prepare for their roles as coaches of the national 4x100m relay teams.

From Jan 1, both Singaporeans will rejoin the national coaching fold, with former national sprinter Hamkah leading the men's 4x100m relay team and Tan taking charge of the women's team.

Their main goal is to prepare the sprinters for top-six finishes at next year's Asian Games in Jakarta.

Both coaches are no strangers to the roles - Hamkah was national relay coach from 2006 to 2010, after which Tan took over from 2010 to 2014.

They were approached in October by Singapore Athletics (SA) technical director Volker Herrmann to consider leading the national relay teams, and agreed two months later after mulling it over.

Hamkah, 45, and Tan, 50, declined to share details of the length of their contracts, which were signed on Monday (Dec 18).

Tan, who is the head coach (sprints) of ActiveSG's athletics club, revealed the decision to rejoin the national coaching set-up had been a difficult one as his previous stint had been "emotionally draining".

"Singapore athletics is at a low level, like a drowning man trying to stay afloat and the last thing we want to do is push the sport lower," he told The Straits Times.

"The only sensible thing we should do as a fraternity is to try and revive the sport again... with Hamkah, Volker and other coaches like Luis (Cunha) and Margaret Oh. Hopefully we will be able to do so."

Hamkah agreed, saying: "I'm glad to work with Melvin. In the past, we had issues with each other but, if we can show that we've moved on and are working together for the future of athletics in Singapore, then there's no stopping for the sport."

In 2010, both coaches had disagreed over the training strategy for sprinters Gary Yeo, Muhammad Elfi Mustapha, Lee Cheng Wei and Amirudin Jamal.

The quartet were the first Singaporean 4x100m relay team to clock a sub-40 second timing (39.82sec) at the 2009 SEA Games.

Tan had been the sprinters' personal coach at the time, while Hamkah was national relay coach.

Tan then decided to quit as he could not agree with Singapore Athletics (then known as the Singapore Athletic Association) and the training plan created by Hamkah.

There was no such animosity when the duo met on Monday, with Hamkah saying that he felt relieved when he learnt that he would be working with Tan, who guided the men's 4x100m relay team to SEA Games silvers in 2011 and 2013.

Stressing that their only focus moving forward is to guide their charges to greater heights, Hamkah said: "I thought I was done after achieving what I did (at the 2009 SEA Games), but I look at the boys we have now and the talent and enthusiasm in them made me think twice."

From 2014 to 2016, the national relay teams were led by former national coach (sprints, relays and hurdles) Cunha, whose contract ended last year. The Portuguese is now the principal of ActiveSG's athletics club and the personal coach of national hurdler Dipna Lim-Prasad.

Technical director Herrmann, who joined SA in April, guided the relay teams this year.

Both teams returned from the August SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur without medals, although the women's team set a national record of 44.96sec.

They finished fourth among five teams, while their male counterparts were sixth out of seven teams.

Herrmann believes the return of Hamkah and Tan will boost the national relay set-up.

The German said: "They have the passion and expertise to improve the athletics scene... they've proven to be quite good as relay coaches, now we have to see what (else) is necessary to develop the teams."