Sailing: Singapore qualifies for 2020 Olympic Games in 49erFX class

Sailors Kimberly Lim (right), 21, and Cecilia Low, 27, were 15th in the 49erFX skiff class with 198 points.
Sailors Kimberly Lim (right), 21, and Cecilia Low, 27, were 15th in the 49erFX skiff class with 198 points.PHOTO: ST FILE

MANILA - Singapore sailors Kimberly Lim and Cecilia Low have earned the country a place at next year's Olympic Games with their performance at the Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships in Auckland on Sunday (Dec 8).

The pair, who are the Asian Games champions, were 15th in the 49erFX skiff class with 198 points.

Six Olympic berths were up for grabs at the Dec 3-8 event for nations who had not already qualified at the 2018 World Championships, which marked the start of the qualifying period.

The top eight from the 2018 regatta secure Olympic qualification for their respective countries. Lim, 23, and 28-year-old Low finished in 34th place then.

In Auckland, they were seventh among the countries who had not qualified for the Tokyo Games. But with each national Olympic committee allowed to take up a maximum of one berth and two teams from the US qualifying, the Singaporeans earned the last spot available.

Lim told The Straits Times: "(We found out) just today after finishing the race, we're happy and relieved. It was a tough week but we're really happy."

She said they had started well but the weather became "really messy and unpredictable" on Saturday which meant things became "really tricky and nothing seemed to work". "We were just putting in whatever scores we could to get our country a spot."

Low noted that the achievement had been months in the making: "We learnt to use our strengths and tried to improve our weaknesses, and we worked with the Singapore Sport Institute really closely to try to improve every aspect - fitness, mental, nutrition and we worked with our strength and conditioning coach and tried to be fitter and heavier."

Lim acknowledged that she and Low had not actually sealed the spot for themselves as a trial in Palma, Spain in March would decide who gets to represent Singapore but she remained confident as "our score is pretty good so we're leading the trials".

Turning her attention to the Olympics, she said:"Now we will prepare as much as we can to have the best performance for the Games. We have a lot of racing to do to get sharper on our tactics...

"It will be our first Olympic Games and it'd be great if we make it to the top 10 out of 21 boats on our first Games."

Peter Cunningham, Singapore Sailing's performance director, praised the pair, saying: "They performed amazingly well for the first half of the regatta. They were lying third or thereabouts at the mid point of the regatta (after eight races). Given the calibre of the fleet here, that's amazing.

"Unfortunately the second half of the regatta was tricky and they struggled at times. But a 15th overall position is still a great result (they were 34th at the 2018 World Championships in Denmark). Progress is being made in the right direction."

Gaining the Olympic country qualification place "means a lot in terms of making the preparation for the final six months leading into Tokyo much easier and much more focused on the Olympics rather than the qualification process", he added.

Noting that the International Olympic Committee had reduced the quota numbers of sailors for Tokyo 2020, he said: "I hope it inspires other Olympic hopeful sailors to keep plugging away at the hard work and countless hours of training as Olympic qualification itself isn't easy these days."

The 49erFX made its Olympic debut at the Rio Games. Singapore was represented in the event by Griselda Khng and Sara Tan.

Singapore sailors have qualified for every edition of the Olympics since 1984, peaking at 10 sailors in seven events at Rio 2016.