Asian Games: Bliss and a miss for kayakers

Mervyn Toh rowing his way to a historic first canoeing Asian Games medal for Singapore. While he is happy with the feat, he is unsure of his future in the sport as he won't be able to train as much as he would like because of work commitments.
Mervyn Toh rowing his way to a historic first canoeing Asian Games medal for Singapore. While he is happy with the feat, he is unsure of his future in the sport as he won't be able to train as much as he would like because of work commitments.PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

Team glad at winning historic Asiad medal but feel a bit sad for missing another by just 0.07

Mervyn Toh had just won a historic first Asian Games canoeing medal for Singapore - a bronze in the K1 200m - but the mood among the country's canoeists yesterday was a curious mix that featured not only joy but also regret, hope, disappointment and wistfulness.

For Toh, the silverware was a culmination of four years of hard work but he hinted it may be his peak.

The 26-year-old finished third in 36.314sec at the Jakabaring Sports City in Palembang, behind South Korea's Cho Gwang-hee and Sergii Tokarnytskyi of Kazakhstan.

"This has been my dream since the last Asian Games so I'm just very happy to achieve it," said Toh.

"(But) I'm not so sure where I can go from here for canoeing. I have a bond with a company and I start work in two weeks, which means I won't be able to train as much."

The 2015 SEA Games champion executed his game plan flawlessly.

"Because I start quick I expected to be in front at the halfway mark. So it was a matter of not getting too excited and staying calm because I knew my opponents would start catching up ," he explained.

Minutes before his race, team-mate Stephenie Chen narrowly missed out on a bronze in the women's K1 200m, the 26-year-old (43.162) pipped by Japan's Yuka Ono (43.092) by a 0.07 margin.

"It's been a hard season. I'm glad and a bit sad at the same time, but that's the beauty of the race. Wins and losses, it all adds up," she said.

Asked what her biggest takeaway from her third Asiad was, Chen gave a short sigh before answering: "To focus on myself. It's very easy to be distracted during a 200m race. It's so close, it's so fast and every second, every stroke matters."

National canoeing coach Balazs Babella wryly suggested that he would not be watching any of his charges' races in future.

"I turned towards Steph's race for one second and she was fourth by less than one-tenth so I decided not to watch Mervyn's race at all. And it worked," said the Hungarian.

But he was in a more philosophical frame of mind when summing up the campaign.

"I believed that my athletes were ready to get medals in multiple events but we have to admit that the others were better than us. This is the highest level of competition I've seen in Asia since I came to Singapore," said the two-time former world champion in the K4 200m.

"So we have to be proud of what we have achieved. To be up on the medal tally, that is everything to us. I am not 100 per cent satisfied but maybe time will do its job and I will look at things differently later on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 02, 2018, with the headline 'Bliss and a miss for kayakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe