28th SEA GAMES | JUNE 5-16

Still up there but ready to stop

They were top regional athletes competing for gold when Singapore last hosted the SEA Games in 1993. Now they are back in town, 22 years after their initial sporting exploits, continuing their involvement in sport. One is long-retired, while the other two are still going strong but ready to call it a day. The Straits Times recounts the trio's careers after 1993 | Having seen it all since age 14, senior statesman could focus on coaching


MENTION "Oka" at any regatta in the region and Asia - and chances are, any sailor will know immediately who it refers to.

That would be Oka Igm Sulaksana, a windsurfer from Indonesia - buff, tanned and whose seasoned hands are indication of his vast experience.

He is also 44.

Entered in the men's RS:X class, the Singapore SEA Games are his 11th straight appearance at the biennial affair, making him arguably the oldest athlete in the region still actively competing in the biennial Games.

He missed the 1999, 2003 and 2009 editions as sailing was not contested then.

Wrinkles line his sun-kissed face, Oka's muscles now tire faster, his body aches for longer after each race, and his peers have all long hung up their sails, but still he continues.

"I'm the uncle," he joked with The Straits Times at the National Sailing Centre at East Coast where the sailing competition is held. "I try to keep up with the young ones, but I'm not that bad."

It is true - he still holds his own against competitors more than half his age, winning a bronze in the men's RS:X at the 2013 SEA Games and also finishing third when his event concluded on Wednesday.

Said the two-time Asian Games champion, who also has six SEA Games titles and now coaches windsurfers in his native Bali: "It's harder to recover after a race. Before, I would pump very hard and use all my energy. Now I try not to push too much. Two minutes hard, then stop, then push again."

Singapore's Leonard Ong, 22, who won a silver in the RS:X event, said: "It's a big challenge to race against him because he's so experienced. He knows what to do when he makes mistakes to minimise the damage.

"Windsurfers like myself have a lot of respect for him."

Now a father of three aged 17, 14, and four - Oka's daughter (the eldest) and older son both windsurf and have competed at the Singapore Open - the Republic was where he made his international debut in 1985.

That was the first time he left Sanur Beach for a trip overseas.

"I come from a very poor family of fishermen, but windsurfing changed my life. I didn't know that if you train seriously for a sport, it can be so big," said the four-time Olympian, who finished ninth in 2000 in Sydney and was flag-bearer for Indonesia at the 2008 Games.

Singapore, incidentally, is likely to be his swan-song at a major Games.

He said: "Maybe after this, I'll really (call it a day), then just focus on coaching for the next Asian Games which will be in Indonesia."

While traditional sailing powerhouses from Europe have continued to dominate at the Olympics, Asia has begun to taste success, with China's Yin Jian winning women's silver in 2004 and gold in 2008.

China and Hong Kong are the front runners in Asian windsurfing, said Oka, who felt that while it will be hard for South-east Asia to produce an Olympic medallist in the near future, it is not impossible.

"It's not just about training hard how. You also have to keep up with the technology (of the equipment). The difference that just one pin makes can be very big," he explained.

"(But) if we do what the others do, why not?"


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