SINGAPORE - Chiyo Suzuki's first trip to Singapore in 2009 ended in a quarter-final defeat during the beach volleyball competition of the inaugural Asian Youth Games.
Nine years later, the Japanese struck gold at the same venue at Siloso Beach, where the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) Beach Volleyball World Tour Singapore was held for the first time.
She and partner Reika Murakami defeated compatriots Takemi Nishibori and Ayumi Kusano 23-21, 21-15 in the final on Sunday (June 24) to win their first FIVB World Tour title.
Said the 24-year-old Suzuki, who fell back onto the sand in triumph after victory was sealed: "This is a very big surprise, I couldn't believe it when they said we were the champions... This is a dream. I'm so happy because this is the first time we're getting an FIVB gold medal."
The pair's next goal is to win titles at the FIVB three- and four-star tournaments.
The FIVB World Tour is a year-long series of volleyball tournaments similar in format to tennis' pro circuits. The 41 events this season are broken into five tiers, from one-star (lowest) to five-star. The Singapore stop is a two-star event.
In the men's final, China's Gao Peng and Li Yang beat 26-year-old Estonians Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar 21-14, 21-18.
Sunday's title was also the Chinese pair's best result to date, with their previous highest achievement being a third-placed finish at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Jinjiang earlier this month.
Volleyball Association of Singapore president Ang Wei Neng was pleased with the turnout at the event, which saw over 3,000 spectators yesterday, including guest of honour Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu.
Ang, 51, told The Straits Times extra chairs had to be brought out to accommodate the crowd at the stadium court, which has a maximum capacity of only 1,500 seats.
"It's a happy problem, there's a lot of energy and fun in this setting... this is what we want," he said, expressing gratitude to the sponsors of the event.
He hopes the event becomes a permanent fixture on Singapore's sports calendar, noting that it would generate more interest and raise the level of the sport here.
He added: "This will spark interest from schools... and tertiary institutions and, from there, we hope more people take part in this kind of event."