Prospects are bright for a new golden age

Hosts' selection of events and crop of new talents bode well for success

SINGAPORE'S sporting history will be rewritten this month as the country readies itself for a record-breaking haul at the 28th SEA Games.

Only once before, in 1993 when the Republic last hosted the Games, has the 50-gold mark been reached.

But this generation of national athletes is expected to surpass this benchmark.

And if luck and form hold out, The Straits Times predicts that Singapore could capture up to 80 golds over the next 11 days.

A tally of 80 golds across a potential 25 different sports would be unprecedented but several factors justify this bold call.

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The most important is the careful selection of events. As host nation, Singapore has the prerogative to choose what it wants on the sports programme.

The hosts are banking on the usual suspects such as swimming, sailing, shooting, table tennis and bowling to do the heavy lifting.

Together, the five sports have contributed 143, or nearly three-quarters, of the 194 golds won since 2005.

So, this year, it is not surprising to see an unusually large number of sailing events - a record 20 compared to 13 at the 2013 Games.

So too shooting, from 12 two years ago to the current 26.

Table tennis golds have also seen a jump from four in 2013 to seven. Although the shocking exit of Feng Tianwei and Isabelle Li in the women's singles did take this paper by surprise, the blip is unlikely to affect the overall medal haul.

But it is aquatics - swimming, water polo, diving as well as the synchronised swimmers and their stunning two golds - which will shoulder the burden of delivering the most medals.

Led by Asian Games champions Joseph Schooling, who is entered in nine events, and Tao Li, involved in five, Singapore's swimmers are expected to dominate at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and deliver at least 19 golds.

Said assistant coach Gary Tan, a former national swimmer who competed in five Games: "I would rank this as one of the best teams ever formed, especially in terms of the unity and camaraderie.

"There's pressure but I believe they will respond positively to it."

Besides these reliable sources, there are new additions that Singapore are expected to thrive in.

Floorball will make its Games debut and the men and women's national teams, champions at last December's SEA Floorball Championships, are heavily fancied.

The return of netball (last featured in 2001), rugby sevens (2007) and bowling (2011) - sports that Singapore have excelled in within the region - will also help the gold-medal charge.

The emergence of a crop of young stars like shooting World Cup winner Martina Lindsay Veloso, 15, silat world champion Sheik Farhan, 17, world junior pool champion Aloysius Yapp, 19, and Asia's top wakeboarder Sasha Christian, 22, also bodes well for Singapore's gold prospects.

Throw in the Youth Olympic Games champion sailors Samantha Yom and Bernie Chin, and confidence is understandably high.

Former national fencer Nicholas Fang, who is co-chef de mission with Dr Tan Eng Liang, noted that eclipsing the 1993 milestone could set the tone for Singapore's future.

Said Fang: "It would send a clear message that sport is a viable option in life and that we have an ecosystem here for a sportsman to flourish."

Home support could also see the likes of squash, traditional boat race and boxing spring a few surprises.

Said bantamweight Ridhwan Ahmad, bronze medallist at the last two Games: "There will be even more motivation this time with my friends and family all around to cheer me. I feel 2015 is my year."

By the closing ceremony in 11 days, it could also prove to be the year for Singapore sport.

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