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Kassandra Ong’s wushu goals get a leg up

A right knee fracture at the age of 13 had wushu exponent Kassandra Ong thinking of quitting the sport for good.

Forced to take a six-month hiatus, she considered giving up “because it felt so crazy that I couldn’t do what I love”.

But, driven by her passion for wushu, she made a comeback in the hopes of becoming a world champion one day.

Her career was handed a boost on April 2 when she was among the inaugural batch of 48 athletes from 22 sports inducted into the Sports Excellence Potential (spexPotential) programme at the Singapore Sports School.

At the ceremony which was officiated by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Ong said: “My dream as a kid was to be very good at wushu, and become a world champion, a SEA Games gold medallist... so to be under the spexPotential programme, I can see there’s a future in achieving my dreams.”

The programme, announced in 2023 as a pillar of Singapore’s high performance sports (HPS) system under national agency Sport Singapore (SportSG), aims to prepare promising athletes to succeed at the SEA Games level before their transition to the Sport Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) programme that supports athletes to excel at the Asian and world stage.

Both spexScholarship and spexPotential programmes provide support for athletes within the high performance sports pathway. These include a monthly stipend, support for local and overseas training and competitions, sports science and medicine, education, career and personal development.

The Singapore Sport Institute and National Youth Sports Institute will jointly deliver support to spexPotential athletes.

Ong, who won one gold and two silvers at the World Junior Wushu Championships in 2022, believes the sports science support offered as part of the programme will be crucial in helping her minimise and manage injuries like the one she sustained five years ago.

“This will make sure that I will be able to ensure my consistency during competitions and training,” said the 18-year-old, who also noted the importance of the psychological support that comes along with the programme.

“Wushu is a performance sport so it requires a lot of mental strength. For me to perform well during competitions, I have to be steady and calm.”

Kayaking brothers Titus and Evan Ching, who won six and four golds respectively at the Asia Pacific Sprint Cup in 2023, are also hopeful that being spexPotential athletes will help them achieve their goals.

Titus, 17, aims to compete at the 2026 Asian Games, while Evan, 15, is eyeing a spot at the 2026 Youth Olympic Games.

Titus said: “Our kayaking journey has been full of ups and downs so it’s an honour for us to receive this because of the amount of hard work that we put in. It’s an acknowledgement that our hard work has paid off.”

Ten athletes were also awarded the spexScholarship for the first time, bringing the current batch of spexScholars to 103 from 26 sports.

Among them was taekwondo exponent Diyanah Aqidah, who won a silver and bronze at the 2023 SEA Games in Cambodia.

Diyanah, who is pursuing a degree in sports studies and marketing at SIM University, is hoping to go for more overseas training camps and competitions to test herself against opponents from Europe and gain world ranking points.

The 24-year-old said: “I feel like this is another step... it means that taekwondo is moving to greater heights.”