SINGAPORE - Basketball player Kovan Toh and rhythmic gymnast Abie Chi are separated by more than 40cm in height, but they are perfectly aligned when it comes to their hopes and expectations as debutants at the upcoming Asean Schools Games (ASG) in Kuala Lumpur.
Both are excited about testing themselves against opponents of a higher calibre than they have previously faced at the July 19-27 Games.
"My seniors who went (to the ASG) before told me that the players there are like next-level strong, whether they are big or small in size. By playing them, I hope I can get a rough estimation of where I stand as a player at the regional level," said the 1.90m Kovan, 16, who is in Secondary Four and studies at Presbyterian High School. He is also the flag-bearer for the 190-strong contingent.
A send-off ceremony for the contingent was held on Wednesday (July 4) at Geylang Methodist School (Secondary), with Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah the guest of honour.
For pint-sized Abie, the ASG will not be her first taste of international competition but it is the largest by far.
"I think it will be very different because there are so many participants from the different countries and I'm excited to see different gymnasts, styles of competing and routines. I hope I can learn a lot of new things," said the Secondary 1 Singapore Sports School student, who at 12 years old is the youngest athlete in the contingent.
Sprinter Mohamed Ishal Zikang Yousoof echoed his two team-mates' sentiments, but also has a few concrete goals in mind.
"I've heard a bit about the level of competition there and it's obviously going to be very tough so my main goal is to break my personal best for the 200m (22.84sec)," said the Secondary Four Raffles Institution student, who was captain of the RI athletics team that won the school's first 'B' Division track and field title in 28 years.
"I don't know many people outside of the track and field contingent so I'm looking forward to meeting and making friends with athletes from other sports. The other thing I want to do is to watch a basketball match."
The student-athletes who come from 40 schools will compete in 10 different sports for the 10th edition of the Games - badminton, basketball, gymnastics, netball, sepak takraw, squash, swimming, table tennis, track and field, and volleyball.
"Sports has the amazing ability to bring people together, no matter what their race, background or nationality. ASG is an opportunity for our student-athletes to strengthen the Singapore spirit, and contribute to our success together," said Ms Indranee.
At last year's edition on home soil, the Republic's athletes won 24 gold, 27 silver and 27 bronze medals to finish third in the overall medal table behind Thailand (29-26-32) and Indonesia (25-33-29).
Among the top performers were gymnast Lincoln Forest Liqht Man (four golds) and swimmer Mikkel Lee (four golds and a silver).
Held annually, the ASG has served as a launchpad for past and present national athletes, including Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling who starred in the 2011 edition, breaking three national records.
That was the same year when Singapore recorded its best ASG medal haul to date with 26 golds, 22 silvers and 31 bronzes.
Chef de mission Pauline Fun, who is also the principal of Bedok South Secondary School, would not be drawn on medal targets for this year's contingent, and said: "I think when we look at sporting excellence, that's just one part of what ASG is about.
"It's also about how the process of competing helps to develop resilience and build character."