Cunha tasked to coach athletes to better times
The national 100 metres record of 10.37 seconds held by U K Shyam has stood for 13 years.
One of the tasks facing Luis Cunha- Singapore's new national team head coach for sprints and hurdles - is to guide national sprinters such as Gary Yeo (personal best 10.44), Amirudin Jamal (10.46) and Calvin Kang (10.52) closer to the national record.
Cunha, a former Portuguese sprinter who competed at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, said at a press conference at the Singapore Sports Institute yesterday that he would "pack my bags and leave" if he didn't believe he can help the sprinters lower their times.
The 50-year-old added that the conditions in Singapore are ideal for athletes to take the sport to a new level.
But he stressed that it depends hugely on the athlete himself.
Cunha said: "First, I have to know them better. I cannot say what I will do or change before I know them.
"But surely, all athletes can improve. If I don't think that, I should pack my bags now and leave.
"Even Usain Bolt, with his world record, wants and believes he can be faster. But will they? Maybe you can ask me that question again in a few months.
"The most important thing is the desire of our athletes to perform well. I can't work miracles.
"If they have the correct mindset and want better results, they have to start doing some things different every day."
The Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) had been on the look-out for a national sprints coach since the middle of the year, after 4x100m coach Melvin Tan decided before last December's South-east Asia (SEA) Games that he would step down.
Tan guided the men's relay team to the national record of 39.45, and helped them win two SEA Games silver medals, in 2011 and 2013, but the gold eluded him.
The gold medal at next June's SEA Games on home soil, is among the targets that have been set for Cunha, who beat two Americans to the post.
There were more than 50 applicants for the position and the SAA shortlisted five, before whittling down the number to three.
Cunha was Portugal's head coach for sprints for the last 11 years, but he has no qualms getting "out of my comfort zone" once the offer from Singapore came.
He said: "The state-of-the-art facilities here are amazing. I have seen some of the better facilities in the world and I can tell you Singapore are on the right path.
"The Singapore Sport Institute can help the athletes with support staff like physiologists, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches and so on, so I believe the athletes have all the conditions to improve and achieve some of their goals."
At yesterday's unveiling, the Lisbon native said that he had never received so much media attention, and joked he felt like countryman Cristiano Ronaldo.
SAA vice-president (training and selection) C Kunalan, who held the national 100m record for almost 33 years before Shyam bettered it in 2001, said he is impressed with Cunha's study of the science of sprinting.
Athletics chief Tang Weng Fei was delighted to get his man, and said that while Cunha would play some part in preparing Singapore's athletes for next year's SEA Games, he would not solely be judged on their performance at the biennial Games.
"Luis is here on a two-year contract," said Tang, who added that the SAA is looking at the possibility of bringing in a technical director next year.
"The SEA Games is only six or seven months away. It'll be almost impossible for him to totally change the training regimen of all these diamonds we have.
"So there are two main targets for him. Firstly, he's here to polish the diamonds by working with the existing or ex-coach, so the athlete can perform his or her best at the SEA Games.
"Secondly and, more importantly, we need to set a sustainable platform for track and field coaching... to take the level of local coaching higher.
"In the future, whether the exco (executive committee) is here or not, the system we put in place will hopefully be able to sustain track and field development and take it to the next level."
"Surely, all athletes can improve. If I don’t think that, I should pack my bags now and leave."
— Singapore’s new sprints and hurdles coach Luis Cunha