SINGAPORE - Singapore's canoeists are undergoing high-altitude training ahead of the Nov 4-7 Asian Canoe Sprint Championships in Palembang - except they are working their lungs hard right here in Singapore, where much of the land is less than 15m above sea level.
The 13 athletes are currently living in an altitude house at the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), which simulates a high-altitude environment using compressors. The facility at the Singapore Sports Hub opened its doors early this month, and the canoeists first moved in on Oct 7. It has four rooms, and can house up to 16 people at one time.
Aside from training two to four times daily at the nearby Kallang Water Sports Centre, the athletes spend much of their free time in the altitude house, which is set to mimic the atmosphere at an elevation of around 2,500m and has oxygen levels of 15.6 per cent, compared to 20.9 per cent in the regular air that we breathe.
The canoeists are encouraged to clock 10 to 12 hours in the house daily to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Dr Frankie Tan, head of the SSI's Sports Science Centre, said this set-up allows the athletes to adopt a "live-high, train low" philosophy, which means athletes' training programme will not be disrupted, as some have to reduce their workload when training at high altitude.
He added: "There is an element of risk, but many of the top Asian countries will use the meet to try and qualify for the Olympics. So our athletes have nothing to lose, and they thought, 'Let's go all out'."
The canoeists will stay in the altitude house until they depart for Palembang on Nov 1.
An environmental chamber is also being built next to the altitude house. This new facility, which Dr Tan said will be ready soon, allows athletes to train at altitudes of up to 5,000m.
This high-tech set-up has already enticed top foreign athletes.
Dr Tan revealed that six German swimmers have already signed up to use the facility next March. Singapore cyclist Dinah Chan is also expected to live in the altitude house in December.
Suzanne Seah, a gold medallist at June's Singapore SEA Games, said: "So far it's been pretty good for me, although some of my team-mates said they had difficulty sleeping.
"Training wise, I can't say for sure it's down to the altitude house, but it seems much easier to hold top speed for a longer time, especially during the longer sets that we do."