The short track speed skating competition in August's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games could boil down to a burgeoning but friendly rivalry between Singapore's Lucas Ng and Malaysia's Wong De-Vin.
The duo swept the top two spots in the 1,500m and 500m races at the MapleZ Southeast Asian Short Track Trophy at The Rink at JCube yesterday.
Ng won both events, clocking 2min 58.199sec in the 1,500m and 46.245sec in the 500m of the senior men's Group A finals. Wong was runner-up in both races.
And while Wong, 20, has never beaten 28-year-old Ng in a race yet, he believes he has Ng to thank for the improvements he has made over the years. He said: "Back when we first started skating, Lucas was much better than me and that motivated me.
"I went to China to train for three months and I became a lot better when I came back. Even though I still didn't manage to beat him, I improved myself because of him so in a way I have to thank him."
Ng added: "De-Vin is one of the athletes whom I'm in close contact with, because we were in the pioneer batch of the sport in South-east Asia.
"We both try to work hard together, and off the ice we're good friends who meet up when we have free time at competitions."
Wong, who is Malaysia's national team captain, qualified for last year's World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in March, and has also qualified for this year's edition.
Meanwhile, Ng - who was the first Singaporean to compete at the Asian Winter Games in 2011 - clocked five personal-best times over four International Skating Union World Cup legs in October and November.
He is widely regarded as the favourite to win his speed skating events at the SEA Games, but says he feels no pressure with a target on his back.
Giving credit to the International Skating Union, Singapore Ice Skating Association and national coach Chun Lee Kyung for guiding him in the sport, he added: "I just tell myself to do my best in every race and hope for the best outcome.
"I try not to put all this pressure on myself because I know it can actually affect one's performance, so I take it as a compliment and just work harder to try and do better."
Winter sports will make their debut at the biennial Games, and Ice Skating Association of Malaysia president Mohamad Fadzli Johan hopes his charges will win "a few" of the eight ice skating gold medals on offer. But he admitted the task will be a "very difficult" one, with Singapore - and Ng in particular - in such strong form .
The 50-year-old told The Sunday Times: "Lucas is a very strong skater, and he is very experienced. He has been skating for the last six or seven years and just posted a personal best in the World Cup, so we'll have a very challenging time trying to beat him.
"But we'll try our best."
The two-day Southeast Asian Short Track Trophy features 83 athletes from four countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, whose officials both agreed that the Republic will be strong opponents at the SEA Games because of Ng's presence.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu was guest of honour at the opening ceremony.
Ng and Wong will compete in the 1,000m and relay events today.