SINGAPORE - An interim national coach has been appointed to lead Singapore's short track speed skaters, with China's Ma Qiang currently on loan for two months from the Chinese Skating Association (CSA).
The 28-year-old's appointment is part of a three-year partnership between the CSA and the Singapore Ice Skating Association (Sisa) aimed at jointly growing short track speed skating ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
The agreement, signed on Monday (April 1) in Beijing by Sisa honorary secretary Alicia Tan and CSA president Li Yan, will see China assigning suitable coaches for Singapore's short track team and the Republic sending coaches to understudy and train with the Chinese team.
Both countries will also provide opportunities for their technical officials to be assigned to their respective competitions to develop officiating capabilities in the region.
Ma is part of China's national coaching team that train the country's skaters, including Olympic champion and current 500m world-record holder Wu Dajing.
His two-month contract runs till May and Sisa president Sonja Chong told The Straits Times that the association is working with the CSA to bring in the next coach on a one-year contract.
Ma's targets are to correct and improve the national team's skating and racing techniques, as well as to build strength, stamina and speed.
Chong added: "(The Singapore team will get) access to qualified coaches who themselves receive continued coaching education and training.
"The CSA has also committed to help train our local coaches to support the long-term growth of the sport in Singapore."
Ma's appointment comes after Australian Ann Zhang briefly led the team following the departure of South Korean Chun Lee-kyung, who was Singapore's national short track speed skating coach from 2015 till last year.
Chun's stint was highlighted by Singapore's Winter Olympics debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea last year when Canada-based Cheyenne Goh, 20, qualified for the 1,500m event and finished fifth among six competitors in her heat.
Chong said that the challenge is to continue this momentum and qualify for the next Games in 2022.
Revealing that the idea of collaboration between Singapore and China was first mooted last November, Chong said it is a "huge milestone" for the Republic to have the support of a country hosting the Winter Olympic Games.
She added: "Singapore and China share a very good friendship and we feel there is a lot we can learn from China in developing our skaters, coaches and officials.
"Having the support of the Winter Sports Centre of China further affirms the significance of this agreement and the possibilities of what we can achieve to jointly develop short track in Singapore and the region."
Ni Huizhong, vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee and director general of the Winter Sports Centre of the General Administration of Sport of China, believes the signing would strengthen ties between both countries and jointly promote the development of ice and winter sports projects in Asia.
He said: "We hope that the skating associations in Asian countries and regions will further strengthen their close ties, participate in the international skating alliance and make positive contributions to the development of ice skating around the world."