Fourth individual gold for Thai veteran Nontapat

Lure of S'pore sees Thai veteran coming out 
of retirement to claim fourth individual title

FOURTH GOLD: Thailand's Nontapat Panchan (left) on his way to outduelling Vietnam's Nguyen Minh Quang yesterday. 

FOURTH GOLD: Thailand’s Nontapat Panchan on his way to outduelling Vietnam’s Nguyen Minh Quang yesterday.

He came out of retirement for one last hurrah, and Thailand fencer Nontapat Panchan achieved just that when he won his fourth individual South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medal at the OCBC Arena yesterday.

The 33-year-old saw off Vietnam's Nguyen Minh Quang 15-11 in the men's individual foil final to add to his previous triumphs in Vietnam (2003), Manila (2005) and Palembang in (2011).

It was Thailand's first gold of the 28th SEA Games.

Nontapat revealed he had already called time on his career, but the lure of winning one last time in Singapore proved too strong.

"I actually retired already but the idea of the SEA Games in Singapore, my second home, to come back and see all my friends, was a big part of why I came back," he told The New Paper.

"To end my SEA Games career here is very meaningful to me."

Nontapat's ties with Singapore go back almost a decade.

He coached at local club Blade Fencing from 2008 to 2011, mentoring a number of current Team Singapore athletes including 16-year-old Kevin Chan, whom he defeated 15-6 in the semi-finals.

He also coached the foil event to 15-year-old Ywen Lau, who won bronze in the women's sabre event yesterday (see story on Pg S15), before the United World College Dover student switched disciplines.

Nontapat had kind words for them.

"Kudos to the Singapore fencers," he said.

"The Singaporean boys in (the foil) event, (19-year-old) Joshua Lim and Kevin, have great futures ahead of them.

"Kevin comes up to KL quite often to train with me, he's like a little brother to me. Ywen... is like a little daughter to me."

The Thai, who speaks fluent English having studied in the United States, added that there would be no U-turn this time, and that he would not be competing in Malaysia in two years' time.

"My first SEA Games was in 2001, and I'm an old man already," he said, with a chuckle.

"I really hope the next time I'm at the SEA Games, I'll be on the podium too. But beside one of my students, who will be the one who wins."

Vietnam's fencers ruled the two other events contested yesterday.

Tran Thi Len beat Filipina Harlene Raguin 11-7 in the women's individual epee final, while Nguyen Thi Le Dung beat Thai Sirawalai Starrat 15-5 in the women's individual sabre final.

Both Vietnamese also emerged champions the last time fencing was at the SEA Games, in Palembang in 2011, and said their triumphs marked the end of their careers.

Tran, 27, said: "This SEA Games might be my last competition in my fencing career as I plan to have a child and settle down.

"If my gold medal is truly my last, then it is sort of a sweet full-circle end to my career because I first competed here in Singapore, and this is where I have played my last."

Nguyen, 29, won her fifth SEA Games gold, and said: "This year's SEA Games has been tough and it took a bit more effort from us to win the golds again."

Debutante Ywen secures sabre bronze

Sabre fencer Ywen, 15, earns a bronze on her SEA Games debut

ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Coach Andras Decsi hails 15-year-old Ywen Lau (right) as an exceptional and dedicated athlete, and one with great potential.
ONE FOR THE FUTURE: Coach Andras Decsi hails 15-year-old Ywen Lau as an exceptional and dedicated athlete, and one with great potential.

At 15, she was the youngest competitor on the piste.

And Ywen Lau proved that age and size did not matter, as she powered her way as the top-ranked player in the preliminary round to claim the joint-bronze medal for the women's individual sabre yesterday.

Although she narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, Ywen was still proud of her debut performance in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

"I feel that I could have done better in the semi-final, but this was a good experience for me and I will definitely learn from here and improve," she told The New Paper.

Coach Andras Decsi said it was already a great achievement to win a medal and it would be a good stepping stone for her.

"Ywen is an exceptional and dedicated athlete. She has great potential and we'll definitely see better results in the future."

Indeed. Ywen was unfazed as she scored the first point against Thailand's 2011 bronze medallist Sirawalai Starrat in their semi-final.

The duo hacked and slashed at each other fearlessly, at times forcing the other on the edge of her area.

They entered the half-point break almost neck to neck at 8-7.

Both continued their offence, albeit with a bit more caution, and Ywen led 12-10. But that proved to be the turning point as Sirawalai went on a four-point streak.

Ywen snatched a point back to keep her hopes alive, but it proved to be in vain as the Thai prevailed 15-13.

WINNERS CAN CRY

Decsi, 38, said that Ywen might have been confused after the break because her original game plan did not work out.

"She expected her opponent to take a bit more risk, but she didn't and Ywen couldn't react quickly enough after that," he said.

"She was very disappointed because she wanted to be in the final badly and it was so close. But I told her that this is not the time for crying - only the winners can cry."

Dr Lau Chee Chong, Ywen's father, was exhilarated that his daughter's hard work and sacrifice had paid dividends in the SEA Games.

He said that Ywen had missed about 50 per cent of her classes at United World College (Dover Campus) for training and competitions, and her mother had to accompany her on overseas stints.

Mrs Cynthia Lau added: "It's quite daunting to be up there (competing) and we think it's fabulous Sports Singapore and Fencing Singapore give a chance to young athletes like Ywen and Kevin (Chan)."

Singapore win second synchronised swim gold

Republic's synchronised swim team finish on a high with another victory

SUCCESS: Singapore's synchronised swimmers finished with two out of three golds on offer at this SEA Games.

Hosts Singapore ended their South-east Asia (SEA) Games synchronised swimming campaign at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on a high last night.

Winning the gold for the team free combination final last night ensured that Singapore bagged two out of three titles in the sport.

On Wednesday, they won the nation's first gold for synchronised swimming at the Games in the team technical and free routine.

Last night, with a score of 77.0667, the 10-woman strong team finished almost four points ahead of runners-up Malaysia's 73.7333, a significant gap indeed. Indonesia took the bronze with 71.6667 points.

"We are proud of ourselves for today's win because we trained really hard for it and put in our best efforts," said Singapore captain Stephanie Chen.

TEAMWORK

They wowed the crowd and judges with impressive twists and flips incorporated into their free combination routine, demonstrating strong teamwork throughout.

"We've always been better at the combination events compared to other teams, so we were more confident about this routine," said Chen.

At the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia, Singapore team won only silver medals, losing to Malaysia in the duet and team free events.

They are now looking ahead, especially at next month's World Championships in Russia where they hope to get into the top-12 ranking."

Malaysian swimmer and team captain Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi, 22, said her team were happy with the result.

"We worked hard and had a two-month intensive training camp. We were targeting gold for the duet."

Earlier yesterday, Katrina and partner Zylane Lee clinched Malaysia's first gold medal for the Games in the duet technical and free routines.

Malaysia retain duet title

Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi and Zylane Lee were not happy after their duet free routine final yesterday at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Malaysia's pair of synchronised swimmers received 75.5667 for their routine, while Singapore's Stephanie Chen and Crystal Yap scored 75.8667, but it was not enough for the hosts to overtake the overnight leaders as Katrina and Lee won the gold at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

In a close contest, Malaysia's golden girls - the two retained the country's synchronised swimming duet crown from the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia (synchronised swimming did not feature in 2013 in Myanmar) - claimed the top spot after chalking up a total score of 150.9103 points, with Singapore (149.8372) and Indonesia (138.1796) finishing second and third, respectively.

Speaking after the event, Katrina and Zylane, both 23-year-old veterans of the 2011 Games, revealed their surprise over their score in the duet free routine final.

"We really went all out today," Katrina said.

"We felt that we swam much better because we focused on eliminating the mistakes we made during the preliminary round on Wednesday, and we did. But we're just happy that we won in the end."

"I didn't know if I could do it," said a delighted Zylane.

"I was the reserve swimmer for a previous competition and I'm weaker in the technical area, so winning this means a lot to me as it shows that I've improved a lot."

While the girls had it tough in the build-up to the Games, it certainly helped them the last couple of days, as they performed with aplomb and looked stunning doing so in their glittering costumes.

"The costumes give us confidence," said Zylane.

"If we wear nice suits, we feel good and can then project that confidence in our performance.

"But they don't really make a difference in the scoring."

Their costumes, sponsored by the National Sports Council of Malaysia, are designed to suit the music and choreography of their performances, and the girls do give their opinions.

"We can give our input, though our coach has the final say and she usually accommodates what we want, if it's not too much trouble," said Katrina.

"However, we also have to keep in mind that we need to make the designs suitable for almost any kind of music, because we will use them for other routines.

"And we don't keep the suits, they are meant to be passed on to the swimmers who come after us."

Singapore v Malaysia netball: Too close to call, says Thai coach

ONE TO WATCH: Malaysia's goal shooter Norashikin Kamal (left), in action here in an earlier match against Singapore, top-scored with 41 goals against Thailand yesterday.

MALAYSIA 71

THAILAND 32

Asian netball champions Singapore and arch-rivals Malaysia are on a collision course for the SEA Games final.

After the preliminary-round games yesterday, the two nations - who drew 35-35 on Tuesday - top the table with nine points each and are expected to meet again in Sunday's gold-medal match.

But the battle for gold is too close to call, said Thailand coach Chng Li Li.

Following Thailand's 71-32 loss to Malaysia at the OCBC Arena Hall One yesterday, Chng told The New Paper that there is a "50-50" chance for either team to emerge champions.

"I think that in the final, whoever is stronger mentally will win."

Chng, a Singaporean, reckons that the taller Malaysian team have a slight advantage, though.

"The Malaysian players have solid builds, and they stand very strong."

Malaysia continued their domination over Thailand yesterday in a highly physical game that their coach Aminah Asaari admitted was "very rough".

Aggressive play from both sides saw a Malaysian player calling for a quick time-out in the second quarter, and Thai wing-attack Sankam Viyada had to be stretchered out with a sprained ankle at the end of the third quarter.

Chng admitted that her team were initially "messy" with their passes, but picked up the pace in the third quarter, scoring 11 goals to Malaysia's 12.

Malaysia's Asaari felt that her substitutions led to the slight lapse in the third quarter.

She said: "I made substitutions and maybe we were not comfortable with the rhythm... but in the last quarter we came back."

Overall, though, Malaysia were impressive in attack, making 85 per cent of their shots - with goal shooter Norashikin Kamal scoring 41 of their 71 goals.

The Thais face Singapore - who beat Myanmar 85-20 yesterday - and Malaysia meet Brunei in tomorrow's semi-finals.

Chng admits that her Thai team are inexperienced compared to the hosts. "But we will give Singapore a good run," she said.

Chng named Thai centre Sangjan Pacharee as a force to look out for.

"She's a thinker and she doesn't give up. Against Brunei in 2013, she played on despite suffering a sprain."

Amazing Grace's many roles

Sporting legend will be torch-bearer, bowling official and, most importantly, 
an ardent spectator

GRACE THROUGH THE YEARS: (2015) Grace Young at a dinner at the Istana for Team Singapore athletes in February.
GRACE THROUGH THE YEARS: (1993) With Adelene Wee after winning the bowling doubles gold at the 1993 SEA Games.
GRACE THROUGH THE YEARS: (1998) In action at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The South-east Asia (SEA) Games has a special place in Grace Young's heart.

No surprise then that the former national bowling champion will be involved at the home Games on many fronts.

While some of her functions at the 28th SEA Games, starting today, are voluntary, one in particular was in response to the call of the nation.

The Games organising committee invited her to be one of the sporting legends to spread the Games fever at the SportsHub's National Stadium track during the opening ceremony.

And the charming lady in her early fifties welcomed the honour with glee and gusto.

She was even willing to spend hours at the rehearsals despite her hectic schedule - which mixes her roles as a mother, bowling official, league tennis player, social golfer, rock-climber, cyclist, skier, and, best of all, fund-raiser.

When The New Paper interrupted her from her duties at last Saturday's marathon opening ceremony rehearsal, Young said: "The ceremony is totally spectacular. You should come and watch it."

For someone who was handed the grandest honour - lighting the cauldron - when Singapore last staged the SEA Games in 1993, you cannot but agree with Young's assessment.

Then, Young was the final recipient of the torch, an important symbol of any Games.

After a 48-hour relay, the torch was handed to sailors Tan Wearn Haw, Ng Xuan Hui and Benedict Tan, before Young received it at the National Stadium.

She then ran the last 100 metres before sparking the cannon at one end of the stadium to set the Games flame alight in the cauldron at the opposite end of the imposing venue.

This time, the athletic three-time Sportswoman of the Year who won seven golds, two silvers and four bronzes at the SEA Games between 1987 and 1995, will be among eight sporting legends doing the pre-cauldron-lighting honours.

The other seven are C Kunalan (athletics), Joscelin Yeo (swimming), Ang Peng Siong (swimming), Glory Barnabas (athletics), Benedict Tan (sailing), Melanie Martens (hockey) and Sheik Alau'ddin (silat).

SPORTING CELEBRITY

The sport of bowling, which Young stumbled upon, has turned her from an ordinary Singaporean into a sporting celebrity.

It was in 1984 that a chance visit to a bowling alley saw her meet then national coach Victor Tham.

Tham invited Young to join the national team's training sessions after watching her carry out his instructions to a T at the alley.

Six months later, she became a Graded champion at the National Championships.

And just when Young thought that her bowling career would fly, things took a different turn.

Over the next few years, she struggled to compete against the more experienced bowlers - but her persistence and hard work slowly began to pay off.

It was an ascendancy that even surprised her, a gold medal in the five-woman team event and a bronze medal in the trios at the 1987 SEA Games providing a major boost to her career.

She continued to strike gold at the subsequent SEA Games until 1995, and interspersed those impressive performances with successes at the 1990 Asian FIQ and the 1991 World FIQ.

In 1994 she finished third at the World Cup, then bagged bronzes at the 1994 and 1998 Asian Games.

The latter Games proved to be her swansong as injuries plagued her, and she said that only the inclusion of bowling at the Olympic Games would tempt her out of retirement.

EXHIBITION SPORT

As bowling was an exhibition sport at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, there was a glimmer of hope for that possibility.

But it did not happen and the kegler called time on a bowling career that put her in the forefront of Singaporean sporting milestones.

Young felt that she should give back to the game that made her a sporting queen, but after three years of coaching, she found that it was not her cup of tea.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for she ventured into many other sports, such as tennis, golf and rock-climbing - and earned many accolades.

While she still makes heads turn as a league tennis player, it was her unexpected indulgence in cycling that brought out the spirit of giving that has been a big part of her striking personality.

Inspired by a good friend, she took up the sport despite not even owning a bicycle. And within two months, she competed in The Tour of Hope - an eight-day ride in Thailand that raised almost $20,000 for charity in 2010.

After her torch-bearing duties at the opening ceremony of the SEA Games today, the co-opted Singapore Bowling Federation council member will officiate at the bowling tournament as an international technical officer.

But, more importantly, she said: "I will take my son Kenneth, 10, to as many events as possible - namely basketball, tennis, football and swimming - as this will be a journey of learning for him and me.

"And if my husband Roy gets some time-off from work, he will join us too at this homecoming Jubilee Games."

Because for Grace, home is where the heart is.

I will take my son Kenneth, 10, to as many (SEA Games) events as possible... as this will be a journey of learning for him and me.

— Former national bowler Grace Young

Community comes together for final Torch Up!

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Hub staff donate time in Going for Gold initiative

GIVING SUPPORT: The NCSS will work with social service organisations to bring groups to the Sports Hub to experience the facilities on offer for free. The Sports Hub employees will in turn facilitate, manage and run customised sportsrelated activities for these groups.
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Arise, Sports Hub

It's at the heart of the SEA Games 
and Oon won't have it any other way

"Our Sports Hub hasn’t hit the first year yet, and after this SEA games we’ve got another 20 years to go. The opportunities, the type of content that can come in, the type of structures that we have today, for example the infrastructure built for becoming a smart precinct, it’s all there. We just haven’t taken phase Two to build it and use it... if you look at the calendar in the past 10 to 11 months the number of events we’ve logged in — 105. i don’t think any venue in Singapore or around the region can boast that in less than one year...." - Singapore Sports Hub COO, Oon Jin Teik

A couple of weeks before the competition kicked off workers dotted the dome of the National Stadium every day, plugging away, sealing and checking the roof, leaving nothing to chance.

With the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games in mind, grass areas around the Sports Hub were manicured, walkways worked on, fresh paint applied for a shine, while signs, posters and banners have been mounted.

Over the last few days there have been screams, claps and whistles heard out of various precincts of the Singapore Sports Hub, tears have flowed and heckles have been raised.

Table tennis has come to life at the Indoor Stadium, water women made a splash at the OCBC Aquatic Centre as synchronised swimmers, and the country's No. 1 female sport, netball, has rocked the OCBC Arena.

Oon Jin Teik would have been making the rounds all the time.

He will be busy tonight, entertaining guests while I'm sure privately hoping the opening ceremony at the National Stadium just stays spectacular.

He's a swimming Olympian, schooled in both the private and public sector and is now chief operating officer of the Sports Hub.

He believes the Sports Hub project can be copied by countries who aspire to host major Games.

I spoke to Oon recently about the Sports Hub's central role at a SEA Games that is returning to Singapore after 22 years, and he said: "When this project was conceptualised, the mission statement, the vision statement was very, very clear, this is a stage for sports, entertainment and lifestyle for all Singaporeans on an integrated basis.

"The target audience and the purpose was made very clear. It was built to cater to all Singaporeans in sports, entertainment, lifestyle, all the time.

"It was never built for the SEA Games, or built for the Olympic Games.

"Never.

"The Sports Hub is a receptacle to house all these plans."

When Singapore hosted the SEA Games in 1993, the magnificent old National Stadium was the centrepiece of it all.

This time, a 35-hectare facility will be at the heart of it all, with the new National Stadium as the centrepiece.

Oon, a breaststroke specialist and a SEA Games gold medallist, was part of the Singapore relay quartet led by Ang Peng Siong at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

He knows the kind of excitement the athletes will be feeling now.

The foreign contingent will expect to be wowed by the Sports Hub, they would also have heard about the poor state of the initial pitch at the National Stadium and the leaky domed roof after it all made international headlines over the course of the last 12 months.

Oon, 52, is confident the team at the Sports Hub have fixed the problems, especially with the lay and play solution for the stadium pitch.

"I'm confident... because we have worked hard to address every big and small issue. I don't think I've seen the team so committed and literally working round the clock and everybody knows this is a mission where we want to do the best in Singapore," he insisted.

"Including our foreign talent, they know. They're actually very proud to be part of this.

"The issues are all discussed and the solutions are the most logical

"The lay and play pitch is by an Australian company which has done it many times.

"The company brought the whole team over from Australia.

"The timing is planned by minutes for lay and play, from the moment the opening ceremony finishes.

"Transport, trucks all by minutes. When they arrive, which direction, where do they park, and so on. And we have to deal with multi-stakeholders, one is tearing down the exit while one is coming in to remove, one is coming in to install one is coming in to clean.

"And there's nothing left to chance."

By the end, the Sports Hub would have hosted 10 events at this SEA Games, including the big ones - swimming at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, track and field and the football semi-finals and final at the grand National Stadium

"Venue stays as it is. We take out all the props, two weeks later we host another event. July 2nd WWE, July 5th is a big multi-religious event at the stadium, July 3, 4 5, water festival. We are back in action again after two weeks of closing.

"I don't think I've seen any other big venues in the world two weeks later host events after major Games.

"I stand corrected, but I'm pretty sure of myself."

The 2015 SEA Games officially opens today, with the closing ceremony on June 16.

Singapore's athletes have already won 7 gold medals.

The New Paper has predicted a haul of 75 golds for the hosts at these Games, some believe it is possible, many others say it is a bridge too far.

Oon is also the secretary general of the Singapore Swimming Association and great things are expected of his swimmers.

The duel between star Joseph Schooling and up-and-coming rival Quah Zheng Wen is potential box office next week, but he does not want to be drawn into picking sides.

"The best will win. Not the better, the best will win.

"They are both showing the kind of signs where winning is not about your traditional requirement like height, bigger size.

"They show signs that they have what it takes.

"It's going to be exciting."

In this corner of the world, the Sports Hub may be about to show the way.

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