SEA Games: Archer Contessa Loh breaks Singapore's 9-year gold drought

Contessa Loh won gold in the women's individual compound event on May 19, 2022. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

HANOI - Before Contessa Loh walked out for Thursday’s (May 19) women’s individual compound archery final, she knew she had two opponents to beat, home favourite Le Phuong Thao and the partisan support.

While the 200-strong crowd chanted “Vietnam, Co Len! (Come on Vietnam)”, the only thing ringing in Loh’s head was the advice – “It’s not the noise that disturbs you, you go and disturb the noise” – from Sport Singapore physiotherapist Lynn Bong.

Loh did exactly that, almost silencing the Hanoi National Sports Training Centre as she beat Thao 144-140 while also ending Singapore’s nine-year wait for a SEA Games gold in the sport.

Teammate Madeleine Ong joined Loh on the podium after she beat another Vietnamese, Nguyen Thi Hai Chau, 146-140 in the bronze medal play-off.

Loh, 27, had come away empty-handed at her three previous Games – she finished a heartbreaking fourth three years ago – and was determined to end that run. 

She said: “I’ve always had trouble at the final arena where I let all the noise distract me. 

“That (Bong’s advice) put it in perspective for me that I am the one in control and it helped me to tune the noise out.” 

The last national archer to triumph at the biennial Games was Chan Jing Ru in the individual women’s recurve event at the 2013 edition in Myanmar.

The Republic drew a blank at the 2019 Games in the Philippines and claimed one silver in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

Before Chan, Sam Tan was the country’s only other SEA Games champion in archery. She won the women’s individual 70m and overall women’s title in 1983 on home soil.

One of the factors behind her success, said Loh, was access to better training facilities.

Before the Archery Association of Singapore moved into a dedicated venue in February last year, Loh and her teammates spent more than a year practising on clay surfaces at tennis courts in Bedok.

The new premises are located at the former Bedok Town Secondary School and are two times bigger than the previous venue and can house 16 target boards instead of 12.

Loh said: “It helped in giving some stability in my training schedule. It also gave us a lot of time to practise and helped to simulate the competition environment.”

She hopes her breakthrough will raise the sport’s profile and encourage the next generation.

Loh, who is also an archery coach, said: “One of the main issues I see when I go to primary schools to coach, is that a lot of them don’t believe that they can actually compete. 

“They feel that they are inferior to other countries or see it only as a recreational (activity). 

“If this (win) inspires at least one child to think they can do it, then to me it is a job well done.” 

Her bow and arrow may have quietened a packed field on Thursday but she hopes her gold medal will cause more of a racket back home.

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