Winona's beaming with confidence
From young, Winona Howe has dreamt of becoming a swimmer.
She was gifted in the pool. At the age of seven, she learnt all four strokes in as many lessons.
But her application to the Singapore Sports School in 2007 was not successful, leaving the then-12-year-old disappointed.
However, that did not deter her sporting dreams.
When Winona learnt from bowling coach Mike Lam that there was an opening for triathlon, she quickly seized the opportunity.
"I had never heard of triathlon before. But once I found out that it involved three sports that I enjoy doing -- swimming, running and cycling - I was very excited to try it out," she told The New Paper.
It could have been a different sporting tale for Winona had her application been accepted back then.
But today, the 20-year-old has her sights on the triathlon gold medal at this SEA Games.
She spent the last two months training with the triathlon team from Shandong Sport University in Jinan, Shandong province, under the recommendation of her coach Chen Bin.
It was a mentally tough training regimen where, for five days a week, she would alternate between running and cycling in the morning, and then swimming in the evening.
Used to training on her own in Singapore, the competitive environment of being with a group of triathletes also spurred Winona to increase her pace.
"Out of the 13 of us, there were only three girls. So I was very motivated to beat the guys," she said.
Furthermore, Winona was less experienced in competing in the standard 51.5km distance as she took part mostly in the sprint competitions, which are half as long.
The result of the intensive training regimen: Two minutes shaved off each stage of the race - a positive sign for Winona's hunt for glory today at East Coast Park.
She aims to hit 2hr 10min, the average finishing time for Elites in South-east Asia, and knows she has to do extremely well in the swim for a shot at the gold.
"In previous triathlons, my swimming was the weakest. I came out from the swim behind the others and had to catch up in the cycling leg, which is very tough.
"If I come out ahead of the pack, then it's easier for me to maintain my lead."
So she has been working intensively on this new strategy for the past few months, and it has paid dividends.
In the SEA Games selection in March, Winona finished the swim a minute faster than second-placed Ethel Lin, and stretched her lead to four minutes at the finish line.
With an impressive prelude performance in the bag and fresh from a productive training programme, Winona is beaming with confidence.
Although wary of the threat from the Philippines, she believes that all nine triathletes stand an equal chance today.
"It all boils down to our individual fitness levels on the day," she said. "And this time I'm representing Singapore on home soil, so I definitely have to win it."
- When: Today and tomorrow
- Where: East Coast Park
- Gold medals on offer: 2
- History: Two golds
- Milestones: Cheng Jing Hean was the first triathlon gold medallist at the SEA Games with a time of 1:58:41.
- The team: Clement Chow, Willie Loo, Ethel Lin, Winona Howe
- Did you know? Triathlon makes its return to the SEA Games after a six-year absence. Mok Ying Ren was the last gold medalist in Thailand 2007.
- The New Paper's medal prediction: The Philippines are strong; a podium finish for Singapore.