SINGAPORE - The Singapore underwater hockey players made a huge splash at the SEA Games yesterday when both teams claimed the inaugural gold medals in the 4x4 event.
The men beat the Philippines 5-0 at the Vermosa Sports Hub on the outskirts of Manila while the women also came up trumps against the hosts, winning 4-2.
This is the first time the sport has been included in the biennial Games’ programme.
National men’s team coach David Lambert paid tribute to the players’ efforts, saying: “It’s the fourth dimension. Next time you are out playing soccer or basketball, try holding your breath. That’s what these guys have to train for. They have to train when oxygen depletes and they actually have to play hard.”
In the men’s final, both teams were deadlocked in the opening minutes of the seven-minute first half, before Liu Dongliang opened the scoring in the third minute following a good drive.
Lucas Ong made it 2-0 with a good flick in the sixth minute, before Kok Kiat Han extended Singapore’s lead to 3-0 just before half-time. The Filipinos could not find a way past the Singaporeans, who put the game to bed with two more goals from Kok at the end of the second half.
The one-sided affair comes as a surprise as both teams had drawn 2-2 in the round-robin stage on Monday.
But Singapore skipper Jonathan Chan was not surprised, as he said: “I knew we had it in us. All the games leading up to this have been very close and competitive but we peaked at the right moment in the final.
“To win the SEA Games gold means a lot to us because underwater hockey is not a mainstream sport before, and to have it included in the SEA Games is very fulfilling. To come off with the gold medal, to have carried out and executed our strategy and plans, I’m so proud of our boys.”
Both the men’s and women’s team have taken turns to become Asian champions over the years, and not to be outdone at the SEA Games, the women also did their part.
A first-minute penalty helped to calm the nerves, before Christina Tham made it 2-0 four minutes later. Cheoh Pin’s 10th-minute effort, followed by an excellent break by Roeswita Leono Liaw in the second half secured the gold medal, even though the hosts did manage to score two late consolation goals.
Singapore had won Monday’s round-robin encounter 3-2.
Captain Cheoh said: “It’s a privilege and honour to compete and win with this fantastic team. The Filipinos played really well, they picked up their game and put up a great challenge. Our girls stepped up, and we can only get better.”
National women’s coach Lena Plambeck added: “It feels so good to arrive at a gold medal after all the work the girls have put it. Even though they say it’s all about training and playing our game, it’s such a sweet experience to get a gold at the end of it, it’s fantastic.
“Even though it’s an amateur sport, the Singapore girls have been so professional about their training and preparation for this competition, they have been so focused and very easy to coach. They listen to instructions, take it on board, try things, they have been a wonderful team to work with.”
Both teams have no time to rest on their laurels and will instead pursue further opportunities to add to their haul in the 6x6 competition which also started yesterday.
Chan said: “Half the job is done. We got one gold medal and we are going to hunt for one more. We are savouring the moment but also focusing on the next gold.”
Plambeck added: “There are more players in the 6x6, new tactics come into play, and we will have to do something different.”