Diving: Coach Li hopeful as Team Singapore head for Tokyo World Cup in search of Olympic berths

Coach Li Peng believes "one or two" others could join Jonathan Chan (above) in securing their berth for the July 23-Aug 8 Summer Games.
Coach Li Peng believes "one or two" others could join Jonathan Chan (above) in securing their berth for the July 23-Aug 8 Summer Games.ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Jonathan Chan is the first Singaporean diver to qualify for an Olympic Games. National head coach Li Peng is hoping he will not be alone come July.

At an open training session before seven of the Republic's divers depart for the Fina Diving World Cup in Tokyo from May 1-6, Li said he believes "one or two" others could join Chan in securing their berth for the July 23-Aug 8 Summer Games, which will also be staged in Tokyo.

The divers will be the second group of Team Singapore athletes to compete in the Japanese capital this year, after table tennis players Feng Tianwei, Yu Mengyu and Lin Ye featured in the T League.    

"From the 2019 SEA Games up till now, we had nearly 15 months (without) an international competition," Li noted in a media session at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Saturday (April 17).

"It was quite boring, but I think it's good for our divers too because there is plenty of time to prepare for (the World Cup)... we are ready for this competition."

The biennial World Cup, originally slated for April 2020, was postponed by a year owing to the coronavirus pandemic. On April 2, with Japan in the grip of a fourth wave of Covid-19, Fina announced that it would scrap the whole competition but did a u-turn eight days later, saying it would be rescheduled instead.

Mark Lee, who will be competing in the men's 3m springboard event, said that the uncertainty over whether the World Cup - which is the last avenue for Olympic hopefuls to qualify - would even take place "threw us off our game a bit".

But he added that the Republic's divers have taken the twists and turns in their stride, and have been preparing to get battle-ready through "mock competitions".

"We've been simulating competition on Thursday mornings for a few weeks, because that's when the competition will be in Japan too," said Lee, 26.

"Coach would read out our names, hand out bibs, and then give us a score."

Even as they try to re-acquaint themselves with the rigours of competition, the divers know that the upcoming World Cup will be like nothing they have ever experienced.

Lee's twin brother Timothy, who will join him in the men's 3m springboard event, said that he was looking forward to seeing how organisers will keep athletes and officials safe.

Admitting that he had concerns, he explained: "Diving is a sport where you queue for your turn. It's not like running where each team can have a certain part of the track or something like that… Everyone uses the same common area, and we dive into the same pool.

"So I guess there is a little bit of concern where if one person gets (a positive Covid test) what does that mean for everyone else who trains in the same group?"

Freida Lim is aiming to qualify for the Olympics in the women's 10m platform event. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

Freida Lim, who is aiming to qualify for the Olympics in the women's 10m platform event, added: "There's really not much of a way to social distance and wear a mask while training, and we'll be split up in training groups, so no matter what, we'll be with a few other countries and that's what I'm a little bit concerned about.

"But I'm very grateful to have an opportunity to travel and compete, even though we can't walk around and sightsee."

Kristel Wang, team manager of the 12-strong Singapore contingent at the World Cup, said that only one member of the contingent - 14-year-old Max Lee - is not vaccinated yet, as he is too young.

But the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) has gone to great lengths to try and keep athletes and officials safe.

It has made a request to national carrier Singapore Airlines to seat the contingent in a separate area from other passengers. They will also travel to and from Japan wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) suits as an added precaution.

Throughout the trip, added Wang, each member will have to undergo a minimum of five swab tests, as part of requirements and protocols set by world governing body Fina.

When asked if she still had lingering concerns, Wang said: "We have to trust Fina and the Tokyo organising committee.

"We do believe they are doing what is necessary, otherwise they would not have cancelled the event the first time round."