Singapore clinches three out of four wushu golds
Changquan champ wins with flawless routine; S'pore bag two other golds
Team Singapore got off to a roaring start on the first day of the SEA Games wushu competition, clinching three of the four gold medals on offer yesterday.
Vera Tan and Yong Yi Xiang won the women's compulsory taijiquan and men's optional changquan events respectively, while the trio of Jesse Colin Adalia, Lee Zhe Xuan and Lim Si Wei clinched the men's duel (weapons) gold.
By his own admission, 21-year-old wushu exponent Yong, the 2009 Sportsboy of the Year, had always felt inferior to his Asean counterparts, despite being a gunshu world youth champion in 2008 and 2010.
At the 2013 SEA Games, he finished 11th out of 14 competitors in the men's changquan event, before a fifth-place finish at last year's Asian Games.
But Yong, inspired both by a seven-month training stint in China as well as the vociferous home support at the Singapore Expo Hall 2, scored a personal best of 9.70 points with a flawless routine yesterday afternoon.
And that was just enough to edge out Indonesia's Aldy Lukman, who settled for silver with 9.69. Vietnam's Tran Xuan Hiep took bronze, a further 0.01 behind.
"Honestly, I'm still quite shocked," said Yong, who deferred his place tat the law school of the National University of Singapore for a year due to the Asian Games and SEA Games.
"I really didn't expect it, as the competitors today are my strongest rivals from Asean and I've always been behind them.
"The atmosphere the home crowd created was very uplifting, and I felt very encouraged.
"It gave me a mental edge, and I felt a sense of clarity I've never felt during training before.
"I felt like I was in control."
Earlier, Vera's win was more comprehensive, as her performance and score of 9.69 were clearly ahead of Malaysia's silver medallist Chan Lu Yi (9.65) and fellow Singaporean Ho Lin Ying (9.64), who took bronze.
The Dunman High School student's gold medal was not unexpected as her competitors were less experienced, and she is eyeing more success in her upcoming events.
"I still have the optional taijiquan coming up, and that will feature more experienced opponents, so I have to stay focused," said 17-year-old Vera.
While the warm reception she received from the home crowd as she entered the arena had been heartwarming at first, Vera admitted it became "a bit distracting" during competition.
She added: "We've been getting a lot of practice in blocking distractions out during training. Our teammates will shout very loudly and make a lot of noise while we're performing, so that we get used to the atmosphere and learn how to adapt to it."
The two early golds set the tone for Singapore's wushu dominance, as Jesse, Zhe Xuan and Si Wei followed their paths to the top of the podium.
"We were definitely inspired by our team-mates and our teamwork also helped us tonight," said 17-year-old Jesse.
"We worked well on the carpet and made very few mistakes."
The Republic Polytechnic student revealed that missing out on the bronze medal by a mere 0.01 points at 2013 Games provided the extra motivation to win yesterday.
"It was an opportunity for us to prove ourselves, and we did it. I'm very happy because the other countries have seasoned campaigners, while we've only been training together for five months."
The one that got away
They may have missed out on the women's duel (weapon) event gold by just 0.01 point, as well as a Singaporean clean sweep of four gold medals on day one of the wushu competition.
But Zoe Mui and Emily Sin were still smiling after the medal ceremony.
After all, they had clinched a silver medal despite being thrown into disarray after teammate Fung Hui Xin tore an anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee a week before last night's competiton.
As a result, what was a three-woman routine had to be tweaked to fit the remaining duo, no easy feat considering the trio had already started preparing for this SEA Games after Naypyidaw 2013, when they won silver as well.
Yet, they persevered and executed a tight routine, screaming at the top of their lungs as 18-year-old Zoe attacked with her spear and 21-year-old Sin countered with her broadswords, but it was not enough to beat Myanmar's Myint Aye Thit Sar and Phyo Myat Thet Su Wai, who won the gold with a score of 9.69.
"We would like to dedicate this showing to Hui Xin, our coaches and team, all the supporters and Singaporeans," said Sin.
Zoe added: "It's a form of positive pressure to compete in front of a home crowd. We were really motivated to have them cheer us on and you could see we gave it our all.
"I won't say we are disappointed to miss out on gold because considering our circumstances, we did put on a good show."
- DAVID LEE