Passing the baton: Veteran Kang ready to guide young relay teammates
The New Paper starts the countdown to the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur with a look at the old and new faces in various sports. Today, we feature national sprinters CALVIN KANG and KHAIRYLL AMRI
Just before the photoshoot, national sprinter Calvin Kang requested for a time-out.
"Wait, wait. Must make sure my hair looks nice," said the 27-year-old with a grin, as he began to tousle his hair.
Instinctively, his 4x100m relay partner Khairyll Amri did the same.
"Learning from the best," he quipped.
It might have been a light- hearted moment between the duo, but it reflects Kang's senior stature in the national relay team, even though he is only three years older than Khairyll.
Kang has been a part of the national relay team since 2006 - when he was just 16 - and is the only survivor from the group of sprinters that rewrote the national record five times between 2007 and 2015.
The current mark of 39.24 seconds was clocked by Kang, Gary Yeo, Lee Cheng Wei and Amirudin Jamal at the 2015 SEA Games on home soil, as the quartet won a silver medal behind Thailand.
Yeo, Lee, Amirudin and Elfi Mustapa hung up their spikes after the 2015 Games.
For this year's Games, Kang and 28-year-old Lim Yao Peng - who was a reserve in 2011 - are the only sprinters in the relay team who have SEA Games experience.
The other members are Khairyll, Hariz Darajit, Ariff Januri and Timothee Yap.
Reflecting on his time in the national team, Kang said there have been clearly defined phases.
The first was when when he started training and competing as a teenager at the Singapore Sports School.
The second was when Melvin Tan took over as relay coach in 2010, and the group of sprinters peaked after gaining exposure at meets such as the Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Bukit Jalil Stadium
Ang Chen Xiang, Ariff Januri, Dinesh Hulbert, Dipna Lim-Prasad, Du Xianhui, Goh Chui Ling, Jasmine Goh, Calvin Kang, Khairyll Amri, Koh Thong En, C Kugapriya, Lim Yao Peng, Mok Ying Ren, Hariz Darajit, Nasiruddin Jumari, Zubin Muncherji, Ng Chin Hui, Nur Izlyn Zaini, Veronica Shanti Pereira, Rachel Yang, Rachel See, Edmund Sim, Michelle Sng, Soh Rui Yong, R Thiruben, Timothee Yap, Wendy Enn, Wong Kai Yuen, Zhang Guirong
PERFORMANCE AT 2015 SEA GAMES
Three golds, three silvers, three bronzes
Kang counts the present - leading a new-look team - as his third and possibly final phase. He has already begun the transition into a post-racing career by co-founding a timepiece brand called Monsieur - fitting, considering he has spent most of his life devoted to precision timing.
Last week, Monsieur launched a month-long campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise $20,000 for the production of a series of watches, and it has reached one-third of its target.
For the next three weeks, though, his priority is carrying out his role as a brotherly mentor to his teammates.
"Taking over (the leadership role) was natural I guess, after the guys left in 2015," said Kang.
"Anyway, it's not really my style to tell others what to do.
"I just try to motivate them... I've also shared a lot of relay stories with them."
Khairyll, who will be making his SEA Games debut in Kuala Lumpur, said Kang's experience is invaluable to younger sprinters such as himself.
"I think the most important thing I learnt from him is how to be calm under pressure, and to focus on what's important," said the 24-year-old, who will start his sports science and management degree at Nanyang Technological University later this month.
"Even though there have been recent (well-publicised spats within the track and field fraternity), he has always motivated us to focus on the relay itself."
While Khairyll is one of the new faces in the relay team, he is not an unknown in the track and field fraternity.
He medalled regularly at national schools meets as a student-athlete, but hamstring injuries from 2011 to 2013 curtailed his progress.
Enlisting for national service in February 2015 also meant he was not able to train regularly and break into the national relay squad sooner than he would have liked.
But Khairyll persisted and now that he is part of the SEA Games relay team, he is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
"I don't want to feel as though I can relax," he said.
"I want to go even further and learn... I know I should never be settled with what I have now.
"I think that's the most important thing I've learnt throughout the years of injuries and struggle is to keep going, keep learning, and never settle for anything less than what you aim for.
"I've learnt from my coach Hamkah (Afik, former national sprinter) that I should give all I have and be the best I can, until the day I feel that's the best I can do and retire.
"If not, I'll always have regrets."
With the retirement of the senior sprinters in 2015, the new-look relay team would do well to just get onto the podium in Kuala Lumpur.
They have been training since December under new technical director Volker Herrmann, but their season's best is a 40.22sec effort by Kang, Hariz, Ariff and Yap at the Asian Track and Field Championships in India last month.
That placed them sixth, behind SEA Games rivals Thailand (39.38sec, second) and Malaysia (39.98sec, fifth).
Kang, who is Singapore's fastest 100m runner with a season's best of 10.56sec at the Selangor Open, is still hopeful of a good showing in KL.
"The former guys (who set multiple relay records) were super confident, sometimes overly so," he said, with a chuckle.
"From the new batch... Tim (Timothee Yap) has that same confidence, but the others, maybe not so much.
"I think sometimes it comes down to personal self-belief, too."
Khairyll is reserved about the team's chances in KL, but is confident of their future.
"I see the coming SEA Games as a platform for the young ones like myself," he said.
"The next SEA Games after Kuala Lumpur, we will be the ones who have to step up.
"We will do our best this year and, in two years' time, aim for a medal.
"If it's possible, we might even target the gold."It's a tough feat, but I believe with our team, we can do it."