Singapore Sailing remains Optimistic despite juniors returning empty-handed from World Championships

Singapore sailor Jodie Lai celebrates winning Optimist gold at the 2014 Asian Games. SingaporeSailing started focusing on the 470 and the 29er more than a year ago, which is why she started training on the 420 only a few months ago for next month's S
Singapore sailor Jodie Lai celebrates winning Optimist gold at the 2014 Asian Games. SingaporeSailing started focusing on the 470 and the 29er more than a year ago, which is why she started training on the 420 only a few months ago for next month's SEA Games.ST FILE PHOTO

SingaporeSailing sets sights on long term, not Asiad medal haul, after culling of four events

Sailing's place as Singapore's top-performing sport at the Asian Games is in doubt, after two classes the Republic is traditionally strong in were culled from next year's competition roster.

At its annual general meeting in Pattaya on Tuesday, the Asian Sailing Federation (Asaf) moved to cut the Optimist and double-handed 420 dinghy (men's and women's) from next year's Asiad, which will be held in Jakarta and Palembang.

The Asaf reduced the number of events from the original slate of 14 to 10 at the behest of the Olympic Council of Asia.

The decision almost certainly deals a blow to SingaporeSailing's medal chances in Indonesia, after taking two golds, a silver and a bronze from these four events at the last Asiad in 2014. Sailors won a total of three golds, two silvers and two bronzes in Incheon that year.

Singapore has produced world champions in both youth classes over the years, in particular dominating the Optimist world championships by sweeping the titles on offer from 2011 to 2013.

The national sailors' strength in these classes have largely contributed to sailing's position as Singapore's top-performing sport at the last three editions of the Asian Games (2006, 2010, 2014).

While SingaporeSailing president Ben Tan conceded that this decision is "not good" in terms of the Republic's medal hunt, he was supportive of the decision, maintaining that it was the right one for the sport.

With eight of the 10 remaining events Olympic classes, Tan said it is for the overall health and progress of sailing in Asia that the Asiad reflects the Olympic slate as much as possible.

"Going off-tangent doesn't serve anyone any good," he told The Straits Times yesterday. "We have limited resources - especially in Asia - and you want to spend where the mainstream is in, not on classes that lead to nowhere.

"We need to look at the big picture. The decision-making bodies are setting the right examples. When they do that, it will filter down and young sailors will realise that there are some classes which are very competitive, and these happen to be Olympic classes.

"This decision will have an impact on us more than others because we're strong in them, but it's no big deal. Singapore welcomes the challenge."

An apt description, since the Republic has yet to make its mark in the world in Olympic classes despite boasting an impressive track record in youth classes.

Other Asian nations like China, meanwhile, have already gone on to win Olympic golds in the Laser Radial (Xu Lijia, 2012) and RS:X (Yin Jian, 2008).

Tan said SingaporeSailing changed tack in its high performance strategy more than a year ago by removing focus on the 420, after identifying trends that suggested emphasis should instead be put on the 470 or the 29er, a double-handed skiff.

It is why sailors like 16-year-old Jodie Lai, a former world Optimist champion and a gold medallist at the 2014 Asiad, only started training with partner Evangeline Tan on the 420 a few months ago for next month's SEA Games.

She is largely unaffected by the omission of the class at the Indonesian Asiad.

Her time after transitioning out of the Optimist was spent on the 29er and while undecided on plans after the SEA Games, sees herself moving on to the 470 next.

She said: "I planned to move on to the 420 after the Optimist, but I'll just have to make new plans and adapt."

Former Asian champion Muhammad Daniel Kei Yazid, 14, meanwhile, will likely stop sailing the Optimist after this year even though he will remain eligible until next year.

His father Muhammad Yazid Ramli wants him to make an early transition to the 420, partnering 12-year-old brother Ryan Sei.

Said Yazid: "The Asian Games is huge and Daniel was holding out hope of competing in it. But the Optimist is just the beginning of sailing. There are other classes with bigger boats and we'll see if we can make a push for the 2020 Olympics."

The slate of events at next year's Asian Games, however, does not mean Singapore has lost all ground.

The Laser 4.7, an Open event, is a class in which Singapore boasts depth - and past world champions.

The 49erFX is also a class that Tan says the Republic has an edge over rivals in the continent.

He explained: "It's not about the boat - it's about the sailor and his or her skills. Skills don't come overnight and it requires a lot of blood and sweat to get there.

"All we ask is that our sailors make the commitment and subject themselves to the cauldron of the fire first."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Optimistic even as medal hopes dip'. Print Edition | Subscribe