Sprint relay quartet target gold despite injury setback
Singapore team still aim for gold despite Elfi injury; coach Cunha urges fans to show up
National sprints coach Luis Cunha has spent the best part of the last two months fine-tuning Singapore's 4x100m men's relay team for their gold medal tilt at the SEA Games.
Two days before the big race, a spanner was thrown into the works.
Elfi Mustapa, expected to run in today's final, pulled his hamstring during the heats of his individual 200m event on Wednesday morning.
The 27-year-old was a part of the Republic's relay teams that won silver at the 2009, 2011 and 2013 SEA Games.
But Cunha, 49, has a plan.
"I have a Plan B, a Plan C, in case something happens to our first, second runner, and so on," the Portuguese told The New Paper last night.
"We have six guys in the team and I will analyse the (condition) of all our athletes tomorrow before deciding who will run."
The other sprinters in the team are Amirudin Jamal, Calvin Kang, Lee Cheng Wei, Naqib Asmin and Gary Yeo.
Maybe it is a pre-race ploy, but Cunha, brought in by Singapore Athletics last December, claims he has not decided on the four who will run the race.
He admitted the morale of the team is affected "a little bit" by Elfi's withdrawal, but insisted "this is normal in sports".
For Yeo, the race this evening (6.35pm) is extra significant.
The relay is the only event the 2011 100m silver medallist is pencilled in for, and he wants to make up for near-misses at the last three SEA Games, which include a photo-finish loss to Indonesia in 2011.
"Gold is definitely on our minds," said the 28-year-old, who has been a part of five record-setting teams, running the second leg each time.
While sad to see Elfi miss out on the chance to race in the SEA Games in front of a home crowd, he felt the team would be able to cope.
"Of course nobody wants to be injured or see their teammates get injured, but this is sport and it sometimes happens," said Yeo.
"Morale-wise, I think we aren't that affected.
"Our team are quite strong in our reserves, and all of us have timings that are very close. So I think we will be okay."
Thailand, who have been 4x100m relay champions in 23 of the 27 SEA Games, including two years ago with a time of 39.75sec, will once again be favourites.
Their top sprinter Jirapong Meenapra, who failed to retain his individual 100m and 200m titles here, will be out to finish twith at least one gold.
Indonesia, who boast 10.45sec sprinters Boby Yaspi and Iswand, the silver and bronze medallists in the men's 100m on Tuesday, are also strong contenders.
This appears the last chance for Yeo and his generation of sprinters - he was born in 1986 with Amirudin, Elfi and Lee all a year later - to end the Republic's gold-medal hoodoo at the Games.
Singapore have won silver 11 times and bronze seven, but never the gold.
Cunha hopes the fans will turn up in numbers again, like they have over the last four days of the athletics programme at the National Stadium.
"The fans enjoy seeing the athletes competing and they want the best, and the athletes themselves also want to win," he said.
"I just hope that tomorrow, on the last day, the supporters will come out once again and support the athletes and hopefully they can go on to perform their best."