Sailors urged to go abroad to improve
SSF president Ben Tan urges sailors to spar regularly with the world's elite
Singapore Sailing Federation (SSF) president Ben Tan wants his sailors out of his sight for the better part of the year.
Go to Europe, Australia, or wherever the top sailors congregate and train, and compete with them for months on end.
Homesick? Tired? Too demoralising to keep losing to the world's best?
Too bad, that is the price to pay if Singapore's sailors want to do well against seasoned campaigners at the Olympic level.
"Like it or not, these are the people we face," said former Laser sailor Tan yesterday at an Olympic appreciation function for sailors at the National Sailing Centre yesterday.
He went on to cite Argentina's Santiago Lange as an example of the level of opponents Singapore's sailors must be prepared to take on regularly.
Lange, 54, a veteran of six Olympics and a four-time world champion, recently partnered Cecilia Carranza Saroli to win the Mixed Nacra 17 at the Rio Games.
He said: "They are very strong opponents and that makes it very challenging, but that makes the pursuit worthwhile.
"You are up against legends."
Tan cited the example of Singapore's women's 49er FX duo Griselda Khng and Sara Tan, who finished 15th out of 20 boats in their maiden Olympic Games.
The pair started their campaign in 2013 and spent months on end training and competing in Europe, initially on their own dime, before they were accepted into the SpexScholarship programme last year.
Khng, 25, said she has learnt a lot over the past three years, such as planning races and training periods, and taking care of their own logistical matters.
The two sailors are thinking of going for a second campaign to gear up for Tokyo 2020 and will discuss in detail their plans soon.
They are likely to follow the same formula as their Rio 2016 campaign, Khng added.
She said: "The regattas in Europe, such as the Princess Sophia Trophy and the European Championships, happen every year and we usually use those as training because basically the whole fleet is there.
"If you're missing out on a competition, you're missing out, basically.
"It's not just us making these sacrifices; everybody who is serious about doing an Olympic campaign has to commit and that's nothing out of the world for us."
Laser sailor Colin Cheng, who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, said the experience of dealing with different sailing conditions, through competitions around the world, is paramount in top-level sailing.
"In the Laser fleet, the top 15 sailors are well rounded and they don't have any weaknesses," said the 26-year-old.
"We need to build up our (fleet) strength, work on our skills in all varieties of conditions and everything will flow from there."
Previous media reports have highlighted the likes of Khng and Tan, as well as Nacra 17 duo Justin Liu and Denise Lim digging deep into their own pockets to finance their respective qualifying campaigns.
SSF president Tan acknowledges that there will be pros and cons on the "payment on delivery" model Singapore adopts, but says sailors who have made the cut are well supported by schemes such as the SpexScholarship.
The scholarship is a government funding and support scheme whereby athletes, from national to Olympic, are given varying levels of assistance according to their competitive levels.
"Credible training plans that other Olympians also do, can be expensive because they do a lot of races," said Tan, who is in the High Performance Sports Steering Committee that oversees the SpexScholarship.
"But if they are credible, why would we say no? The athletes are now the limiting factor.
"How much are they willing to commit? They are the ones who have to decide."