ON TRACK FOR GLORY
The country was abuzz with excitement.
As the South-east Asia (SEA) Games returned to Singapore in 1993 after 10 years, local sports fans licked their lips at the prospect of sprinters Muhd Hosni and Hamkah Afik ruling the track in the 100 metres event.
Alas, on a rainy Sunday evening at the old National Stadium in Kallang, the pressure boiled over.
Hosni, only 21 at the time but regarded as Singapore's brightest track talent, finished a disappointing sixth.
Hamkah, who surpassed his own expectations in the 200m, where he bagged silver, came in fifth in the 100m.
After 22 years, the Games will return to Singapore next year and, once again, two sprinters - Gary Yeo and Amirudin Jamal - are aiming to be the first Singaporean since C Kunalan in 1969 to win the event.
Backed by home support in the spanking new Sports Hub, Kunalan believes the duo can deliver.
"For the 100m, it's not just Gary and Amir, but Calvin (Kang) stands a chance as well," Kunalan said.
"They have the commitment, they just have to work on one or two points, and they'll improve dramatically.
"I think, by the time the Games begins in June 2015, they'll be ready to show what they can do."
Yeo, 27, whose personal-best time is 10.44 seconds, has come closest to a gold medal over the past decade, winning the silver in the 2011 Games in Palembang.
Amirudin, 27, (personal best 10.46) is the latest to reach the 100m podium when he clinched a bronze medal in Myanmar last December with a time of 10.55.
Hosni, 42, said that while there is no doubt home support will be an advantage, the weight of a nation's expectations could prove crippling.
"The pressure I faced was something I would never wish on any young athlete," Hosni said. "The hype started to build up from 1992, actually. I was in my prime, winning every open championship at the time, and everyone was saying, 'Hosni is the one'.
"But 1993 was my first major games; even I didn't know what to expect... In the end, the race didn't go according to plan, and that was my first and last SEA Games.
"But to be fair, (Gary and Amir) shouldn't have the same problems, because they are experienced. They have raced in two or three Games already."
Though he was also unsuccessful in the 100m, Hamkah drew much inspiration from the home crowd just before his 200m silver-medal finish.
HAND ON HEART
Recalled Hamkah: "Before the race, (Singapore thrower) James Wong had just won gold. The officials deliberately rescheduled his victory ceremony from after to before my race.
"When I heard the national anthem, I put my hand on my heart and said 'This is it'.
"That SEA Games, I broke my personal-best time twice - in the heats and finals."
When asked about the prospects of Yeo and Amirudin, Hamkah, who coached the 4x100 relay team in 2009, warned that their age might be their undoing.
"The best opportunity for them to win the gold was in Myanmar," he said.
"Amir did well to win bronze, but the Thai and Indonesian runners, who finished first and second, were young guys.
"So, they will be at their prime when they get here next year. Our guys, (who will be 28 next year), on the other hand, might be past their peak already.
"I'm not saying we can't do it - but it will be tougher for them to win it in 2015."
Yeo, who returned to his university studies after training full-time last year, disagreed with Hamkah, saying that Singapore athletes tend to peak a little later than their regional counterparts.
"Because of national service, we sort of delay hitting our peak by two or three years," he said.
"I still feel like I'm in my prime right now and, with proper care and training for the next one year, I should stay that way until the SEA Games.
"The hype is something I would welcome and I doubt it'll be a strain on me. Next year's Games will be my first in front of home support, so it will be a fantastic time to win the gold."
TOMORROW: FORMER SWIM QUEEN JOSCELIN YEO AND RISING STAR JOSEPH SCHOOLING TALK ABOUT THE SEA GAMES
40CM For the 100m, it's not just Gary and Amir, but Calvin (Kang) stands a chance as well...I think, by the time the Games begins in June 2015, they'll be ready to show what they can do.
- C Kunalan (left) 2015 SEA