SEA Games: 146 athletes earn the nod for Hanoi Games on appeal

From far left: Jed Ong, Lam Zhi Loong, Eugene Lee and Lim Yao Xiang - Singapore's victorious 4x100m surface relay fin swimming team at the 2003 SEA Games in Hanoi. Lim will return to Vietnam for this year's Games in May. ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Nearly 20 years after Lim Yao Xiang clinched a gold and bronze medal in fin swimming at the 2003 SEA Games in Hanoi, the 39-year-old will be returning to the city to compete in the sport again.

On Tuesday (March 8), Lim was among 146 athletes who earned the nod from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to compete at the May 12-23 SEA Games in Vietnam.

Singapore will now be represented by 476 athletes in 34 sports at the Hanoi Games.

The former national water polo player was pleasantly surprised to have made the cut for the biennial competition given that his last competitive fin swimming outing was nearly two decades ago.

He was first approached to pick up the sport again by a former Singapore Underwater Federation president in 2019, when it was announced that fin swimming would feature at the Hanoi Games.

But it was only two years later that Lim, co-founder of the gym Grityard, dug out his 20-year-old monofins from his storeroom and gave the sport another go.

His comeback was challenging as the physical demands of fin swimming took a toll on his body.

Lim said: "Due to the nature of the movements (in the sport), I was just aching and every day something was in pain. To be very honest, sometimes I questioned myself and asked what was the point because I was going through a lot of pain and I didn't know where I was going. But I just took it as a learning process."

Because of his work schedule, Lim was only able to attend two of the four weekly national training sessions.

But he made up for it by doing exercises that would help improve his mobility and power.

Lim, who won three SEA Games gold medals with the national water polo team, admitted that he is still getting used to the sport, adding that disruptions to training caused by the pandemic have made things more challenging.

He said: "I'm getting used to the pain and challenge in the pool so that's helped a little bit. Through those stretches, some parts of my body feel a lot better. It's still nowhere near what it was, but there have been some improvements."

With two medals under his belt, Lim would appear to be a favourite but he played down his title chances in the men's 50m and 100m fin swimming surface events.

He said: "The overriding theme was just to do the best (that I can). I've gone past the stage where my expectations would be to win something because that's not realistic any more, especially for something that I've not been doing for such a long time."

There was also joy for the silat team on Tuesday with 20 athletes getting the nod from the SNOC Games Appeals Committee, which is chaired by International Olympic Committee vice-president Ng Ser Miang.

Only three exponents were included in the initial selection last month.

Defending SEA Games champion Hazim Yusli was thrilled to get the chance to compete in Vietnam after being left out of the earlier list.

The 20-year-old said: "I'm looking forward to this opportunity. We are happy to get selected for the SEA Games, but we have to work hard for it also."

Defending SEA Games champion Hazim Yusli. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The Institute of Technical Education student will be competing in the men's Class C (55-60kg) instead of the Class B (50-55kg) this time but he is ready to go.

He said: "The last round in 2019, I was one class below my current one so it's a new experience. I'm competing in a heavier weight category so I feel like I have to learn and prepare more.

"Obviously (the goal is) a gold medal and I expect myself to give a good performance for supporters and people in Singapore, especially my family."

E-sports will also make a return to the SEA Games in May, as will Singapore, who will compete in five e-sports events: the women's and men's League of Legends: Wild Rift, mixed Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Fifa Online 4 and League of Legends.

The Republic will also have men's and women's teams competing in the 3x3 and 5x5 basketball events.

The women's 4x100m relay team led by 2015 SEA Games gold medallist Shanti Pereira will miss out on Hanoi, however, as they were not selected by the committee.

This year's SEA Games, which was postponed from last year owing to the pandemic, will see 526 events contested across 40 sports.

At the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, Singapore's largest away contingent of 659 athletes competing in 48 sports brought home a haul of 53 gold, 46 silver and 68 bronze medals. The 2015 Games on home soil remains Team Singapore's best performance (84-73-102) while the 2017 edition in Kuala Lumpur (58-59-71) is their best away Games.

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