SINGAPORE - They returned empty-handed from last year's Asian Games, and even as recently as September's Malaysia Open International Silat Championship and October's World Beach Championship, they just could not win anything.
But the Singaporean trio of Hamillatu Arash, Nujaid Hasif and Nazrul Kamal made their breakthrough in style when they emerged as champions of the men's seni regu team event at the Subic Bay Exhibit and Convention Center in the Philippines on Monday (Dec 2).
This is also the first SEA Games gold for the Republic in this event.
Nazrul, a 20-year-old Temasek Polytechnic graduate, said: "It feels very surreal because we did not win anything at the Asian Games, and what a turn over this is.
"We woke up after the Malaysia Open and World Beach Championship, and we trained almost every day after that, going to the gym in the morning, and practising our technique in the afternoon."
Their perseverance and hard work paid off as they scored 466 points with their three-minute routine to finish ahead of Thailand (458) and Malaysia (453).
For Nujaid and Hamillatu, victory was especially sweet as they were part of the team that claimed bronze in the same event two years ago in Malaysia.
Hamillatu, a 21-year-old Republic Polytechnic student, said: "We were disappointed with the bronze two years ago and that served as motivation to do better. Another bronze at the World Championship held in Singapore last year was a performance marker and we really wanted to do better."
Hasif, a 19-year-old Singapore Sports School student, added: "Our event is all about sychronisation and power, and we produced one of our best performances ever.
"It was a very competitive field as each of the seven countries have made big improvements. So, it was very satisfying to win gold as it made all our preparation worthwhile."
The never-say-die attitude extended to 26-year-old Iqbal Abdul Rahman, a veteran of four previous SEA Games, who had bagged just one bronze medal, in 2015.
That all changed on Monday when he earned a silver in the men's seni tunggal singles event with 461 points, nine behind Filipino champion Tacuel Edmar, and one ahead of Indonesia's Sulistianto Dino.
Iqbal, who has been practising silat for over 20 years, said: "There are no words to describe my joy because I have been trying so hard, and finally I'm bringing back a medal thanks to the effort and sacrifices my coaches and I have put in.
"This is a timely boost for me to push even harder to win gold at the next SEA games."
Singapore Silat Federation chief executive officer Sheik Alauddin was pleased with the haul from the first day of competition.
At the last SEA Games, Singapore's silat team brought home two golds, four silvers and six bronzes. This year's silat competition runs until Friday, with nine gold medals up for grabs, and Sheik is targeting at least another gold medal from the upcoming tanding (sparring) events.
He said: "Having never won a SEA Games seni regu team gold, hopefully their win will give belief to the other athletes.
"Some may have asked why should they push themselves to the wall and go through all the scoldings in training sessions when they can't win anyway.
"But these boys have put their heart and soul in it, stayed hungry and continued believing. Today, their timing and control were spot-on. It is not easy for a trio to synchronise the height of their kicks and punches and to get their positioning and alignment right but they did it.
"I'm also happy for Iqbal because this has been a long time coming. It is so difficult to win gold at this level, and inevitably somebody will end up in tears. We are just thankful to be able to contribute to the overall Team Singapore medal haul."