Darren bounces back from recent setbacks to win gold
After recent lows, Choy hits golden heights with new partner Yeo
They say sailors are some of the toughest people.
The truism in that saying came through, when Darren Choy displayed immense strength to bounce back from a seemingly withering career to win the 470 dinghy race and his first SEA Games gold medal yesterday.
He and partner Jeremiah Yeo crossed the line third in the final race, but that was enough for the Singapore duo to taste glory at the National Sailing Centre.
Their closest rivals the Philippines, who were trailing by four points before the race, finished fourth and were unable to close the gap.
"We sailed smart and according to plan, that's how we got the gold," Choy told The New Paper yesterday.
As he sailed back to shore victorious, all the 21-year-old could feel was the achievement of redemption.
Memories of his underwhelming performance at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) still lingered during the four days of competition.
Back then, the 16-year-old was the poster boy for the Republic's athletes, even lighting the cauldron at the inaugural event.
But the media hype got the better of him, and he finished a disappointing seventh in front of an expectant home crowd.
The young sailor failed to rediscover the form that had won him back-to-back world titles in the Byte CII dinghy class.
At the 2013 Games in Myanmar, he could manage only a bronze in the 470 race.
But this year, the tides have turned for Choy.
Sailing with new partner and long-time friend, Yeo, has been the spark for his resurgence.
Choy struggled with different sailing styles of his previous teammates, but, with Yeo, he communicated effectively on water.
"He is the most important factor for our win today. We know how to give each other feedback and that's very important in a team sport like double-handed sailing," said the skipper.
"It's 50-50 between the helmsman and crew, and Jeremiah definitely helped me a lot this time."
The YOG experience has also taught Choy to deal with the expectations of competing on home ground.
Instead of letting the cameras and the microphones get to his nerves, he embraced the spotlight.
"Previously, I felt very pressured, like I was being dictated by the media," he said.
"But now I enjoy interacting with the media, because I know how much they have helped to promote the sport of sailing."
Yesterday's win also gave Singapore's Olympic hopes a boost, with the 470 being the competition class.
Ben Tan, president of the Singapore Sailing Federation, said the gold not only serves as a good stepping stone for Choy's Tokyo 2020 ambitions, but also showed the sailor's tremendous progress over five years.
"We want our sailors to have fortitude. They must be able to take defeat and eat the humble pie before they go onto the next step and, today, Choy has demonstrated that," he said.
"If he had given up after the YOG, he would not be here today."
Best in Asia and South-East Asia
PROUD MOMENT: Jodie Lai receiving the gold medal and SEA Games mascot from president of the Singapore Sailing Federation, Ben Tan. PHOTOS: SINGSOC/ACTION IMAGES
The feeling did not quite sink in for 14-year-old sailor Jodie Lai.
Her win in the female Optimist event at the National Sailing Centre yesterday puts her as Singapore's youngest gold medallist at the 28th SEA Games.
She was at a loss for words when asked about her achievement.
After a long pause, she said: "It's a happy feeling."
Entering yesterday's double points final race with a two-point lead over closest rival Nabila Natasha Mohamad Nazri of Malaysia, Jodie was clearly in the driver's seat.
With third-placed Klahan Kamonchanok of Thailand in the lead and Myanmar's Thae Yu Khaing too far to pose a threat, all Jodie had to do was to sail her own race and keep an eye on Nabila.
In the end, she finished second, ahead of Nabila, with Klahan winning the race.
Jodie won the gold with 13 points, followed by Klahan (15) and Nabila (17).
"I wanted to finish ahead of Nabila just to be sure of my gold and, as we approached the finish line, I kept looking back to make sure she was not going to overtake me," said Jodie, a Secondary 2 student at Raffles Girls' School.
"That was when I was most nervous in the race."
Coming off the back of her Asian Games win in Incheon, South Korea, last year, Jodie described yesterday's victory on home waters as a "great honour".
It could have been double joy for Singapore, but Daniel Toh narrowly missed out on the male Optimist gold and had to settle for bronze.
Just two points separated him, Malaysia's Muhammad Fauzi Kaman Shah and Thailand's Suthon Yampinid before the final race.
Fauzi overtook Daniel on the down-wind straight to the finish and a penalty incurred for illegal kinetics demoted the Singaporean to third place, adding to his misery.
But Singapore coach Javier Figueroa Mantero backs the 13-year-old to bounce back at the Optimist World Championships in Poland in August.
"It was a very tough fight today, and Fauzi is one of the best sailors in the world in his age group. He deserved the win," said Mantero.
"It's important that Daniel learns how to deal with the pressure. He will face even stronger competitors in Poland, so today's race is good training for him."