Champs Malaysia's synchronised swimmers modest about targets
Malaysians have ruled synchronised swimming in the region, but are not as confident this time
They are queens of the sport in the region, sweeping all the gold medals the last time synchronised swimming featured in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in 2011.
The sport is once again on the programme at this year's Games, which is returning to Singapore's shores after 22 years, and the hosts are hoping to challenge the Malaysians for supremacy in the pool.
Perhaps it was modesty, or simply guarding against putting any pressure on her charges, but speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Malaysia's team manager Siu Wai Leng says they are not confident of repeating their feat of 2011.
"Expectations are lower this year," said Siu, ahead of synchronised swimming's first day of competition today at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
"Our team are mostly made up of juniors, who do not have much competitive experience."
Five of the nine swimmers representing Malaysia are new to the national team, although the other four are veterans from their 2011 campaign.
They are also disadvantaged by having one less member than the ideal number of 10 for a team - a number of potential swimmers did not want to relocate to Kuala Lumpur for national training.
Team captain Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi and Zylane Lee, both 22, are the best bets for gold for the Malaysians in the duet event.
Katrina won gold in the two duet events in 2011.
Her partner then was Shareen Png, who retired in 2012 and is now the team's assistant coach.
Png, 31, hopes that the team's SEA Games experience will prepare them for the Rio Olympic Games next year.
"Gaining experience is our priority," she said.
"We're planning ahead for bigger competitions."
The team have been in intensive training for the past year.
They have been training two sessions a day at the Bukit Jalil Aquatic Centre under Shareen and head coach Long Yan, who represented China in the 1996 Olympics.
The synchronised swimming events start today and end on Thursday and take place at 1pm and 8pm daily, so the Malaysians have been training accordingly to get used to performing at those times.
Though there were five golds up for grabs in 2011, there will be only three events contested this year - duet technical and free routine, team technical and free routine, and team free combination.
Singapore are expected to give Malaysia an even bigger challenge this time round, having clinched a silver in the team free combination behind Malaysia in 2011.
"Singapore's team have more seniors and are more experienced than ours this year," said Siu.
"We aim to bring medals home, but the colours of the medals depend on our team's performance.
"Hopefully there will be at least one gold."