Singapore's silat exponents won two gold medals and a silver in the artistic category on day two of the 8th South-east Asia (SEA) Pencak Silat Championships on Saturday (Feb 26), but they were also appreciative to be back competing in the arena following a long hiatus due to the pandemic.
Singapore Silat Federation chief executive Sheik Alau'ddin said earlier in the week that they are hoping that their exponents' performances at the three-day competition will help them earn the nod to go to May's Hanoi SEA Games.
The chance to take part in the biennial event was lodged firmly in the exponents' minds as they went about their routines at the OCBC Arena Hall One.
Singapore's Siti Nazurah Mohd Yusoff, 21, who won silver in the senior artistic female category after losing narrowly to Malaysia's Nur Syafiqah Hamzah by a score of 9.895 to 9.930, said that while SEA Games selection is up to the authorities, what she can focus on is her own improvements.
The former regu (team) exponent, who was making her debut in the tunggal (single) category, said: "It's my first time in this category so I think I've done well. I'm proud of it, I'm not sad but I will definitely continue to work harder.
"If I continue to work hard, I think I will have a chance at the SEA Games but I don't have a say in that as I have to go through selection so I will just focus on myself. Based on my performance earlier, I can improve on my stamina, the sharpness and the explosiveness of my movements."
Singapore's senior artistic female team were dominant in their display en route to gold, beating Malaysia with a score of 9.945 to 9.895. The trio of Amirah Sahrin, Iffah Batrisyia Noh and Nur Ashikin Zulkifli were proud of their performance and saw the value in having competition exposure.
Iffah, 19, said: "It was one of our better performances but definitely not the best that we can achieve so we will take this as a learning point and do better for future competitions."
"Today's win means a lot to us as it is our first international competition together."
Amirah, also 19, added: "As compared to the virtual competitions that we have gone through, this is definitely an eye-opening experience as it is something we have never experienced before, including the atmosphere and supporters."
While the event was not open to the public, the cheering from the various teams' officials, exponents and invited guests made it a tense atmosphere. Besides the 30 exponents from Singapore, there were also 61 of their counterparts from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
When asked about their chances of qualifying for the SEA Games, Amirah was confident in their team's ability but acknowledged that they had room for improvement.
"Our synchronisation is still not there compared to other powerhouses like Indonesia and Vietnam."
Although they were uncontested in the final, the senior artistic male team consisting of Iqbal Abdul Rahman, Mustafar Mohd Isa and Nazrul Mohd Kamal registered a high score of 9.940 after their three-minute routine. But the trio were just grateful to compete in an international competition for the first time together.
Iqbal, the 2018 men's artistic singles world champion, said: "This is the first time the three of us were put into the same team and competing at quite a high level.
"With only a short period of training together, around less than a month, I think we exceeded expectations. We didn't come into this competition with high hopes, we just wanted to outperform ourselves and give our 100 per cent."
Despite being a newly formed team, they were far from inexperienced with both Iqbal, 28, and Nazrul, 22, winning a silver and gold respectively at the previous SEA Games.
Ahead of the upcoming Hanoi edition, Mustafar, 26, was eager to make an impact and not just make up the numbers.
He said: "I am the newest in the team and I am standing beside a SEA Games champion and a world champion so I would have to work extra hard to be on the same level as them. But considering our team dynamics, I hope we can get at least top three so we don't come home empty-handed."
The team added that the competition experience was invaluable in allowing them to gauge their abilities and identify their weaknesses.
"The three of us are still new so one area we have to work on is our chemistry." Iqbal said.
Looking ahead to the twice-postponed Pencak Silat World Championships, which is set to take place in Kuala Lumpur in July, the team said: "Our expectations would be to see where we stand in the world right now."
The three-day competition ends on Sunday (Feb 27) with several Singaporeans in action, including Sheik Farhan’s Class J (90-95kg) final in the senior match men’s singles against Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Tri.