CLARK • The dethroning of the men's water polo team will serve as both a warning and motivation for Singapore's swim team when the first races start today at the New Clark City Aquatics Centre.
The Republic topped the medal table at the last edition in 2017 and Singapore Swimming Association head coach Gary Tan said yesterday: "As you saw in water polo, (our rivals) are also gunning for us in swimming and (aiming) to take us down. But our goal is always to be the No. 1 South-east Asian country."
He and his 21 swimmers arrived in the Philippines on Monday without much hiccup despite Typhoon Kammuri, save for a one-hour delay due to weather conditions at Changi. With their stomachs filled and bodies well-rested after two nights in the Athletes' Village, the mood was one of confidence.
Regional kingpins Singapore have dominated the sport at the biennial Games since leapfrogging Thailand to take top spot at the 2005 edition in Manila. And a return to the country where Singapore first tasted such success could only be a boost to the Republic's hopes of equalling its best away haul of 19 golds in 2017.
Tan admitted: "It's going to be tough to get 19 but it's feasible.
"Vietnam has quite a few guys coming through and there are some new Filipino swimmers who were recruited and we don't know what to expect from them as they are based overseas."
Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, 24, will lead the medal hunt for Singapore with six events. He is pencilled in for today's men's 4x200m freestyle and is scheduled to compete in the 50m and 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle, 4x100m free and 4x100m medley relays.
He will be joined by veterans and multiple SEA Games gold medallists Quah Ting Wen and Amanda Lim, as well as six debutants.
Schooling is looking to rediscover his winning form after finishing 24th in the 100m fly at the world championships in July.
He told The Straits Times earlier: "The Games is a different opportunity to get better and see what I need to improve on.
"I'm looking forward to racing and seeing what I need to correct going into the Olympics."
Tan added: "For Joseph, it's about building confidence to race. He's trying to figure out what it'll take to qualify and make it to his third Olympics."
Freestyle specialist and rookie Cherlyn Yeoh, 18, finished her A-level examinations on Nov 27 and was thrilled to be back in the pool.
"It's a mixture of nerves and excitement for me because it's my first SEA Games," said the Raffles Institution student, who will compete in the 100m and 200m freestyle and relays.
She will face Nguyen Thi Anh Vien in both individual events but was not cowed by the Vietnam swim queen's track record that includes eight golds in 2017.
Yeoh said: "I've not raced her before and I would like to see how I do against the best in the region and learn how she races. I still have a lot to learn.
"I'm very proud of being part of the swim team and I hope to help Singapore retain the tradition of being top in South-east Asia."
Low Lin Fhoong