Singapore's young 4x100m team deliver surprise by breaking record
Newly formed 4x100m team surpass expectations to clock national junior mark
When national women's relay coach Melvin Tan fielded a young 4x100m team during the SEA Games test event in the Philippines over the weekend, all he wanted was to give the teenage quartet some exposure.
After all, he had tried out the combination only twice in training recently.
But the foursome of Bernice Liew, Elizabeth-Ann Tan, both 16, Haanee Hamkah, 18, and Clara Goh, 19, delivered a pleasant surprise by posting a national junior record of 46.68sec.
Their feat at the New Clark City Stadium on Sunday saw them lowering the previous mark by 0.1sec.
It was set by Jannah Wong, Kugapriya Chandran, Eugenia Tan and Shanti Pereira at the 2014 Asian Junior Championships in Taiwan.
"We tried the junior squad this time around to test and familiarise themselves with the track and the pressures," Melvin told The New Paper yesterday.
"Breaking the record came as a pleasant surprise, even though we were hoping for it.
"It was very easy for me to put them into the team because their attendance at relay training has been very good.
"Their knowledge on the principle of a good relay run is there and they are very consistent.
"The two 16-year-olds, Bernice and Elizabeth-Ann, are young but they already have a level of maturity about running."
Their strong foundations helped them blend seamlessly to win the gold as the Philippines, the only other contenders in the race, finished in 50.55sec.
But it was the youthful Singapore quartet's timing, rather than the hue of their medal, that shone through.
Haanee, eldest daughter of former Singapore sprinter and current national men's relay coach Hamkah Afik, said they broke the record by focusing on the process.
Said the second-year bio-medical science student at Temasek Polytechnic (TP): "We were expected to break the record, but we didn't want to focus on that.
"We focused more on executing the race well.
"After we saw the time, we were jumping for joy and ran to each other for a group hug."
Goh, a third-year business student at TP, said: "It is a big achievement because we are a new and young team.
"Our coaches kept telling us that we could do it and I'm very happy that we did."
Elizabeth-Ann, a Sec 4 student at Nanyang Girls' High School, believes that even though they had tried out the combination only a couple of times, it worked well because they have been training together since earlier this year.
Said the anchor-leg runner: "We had good teamwork and chemistry between us, because we've trained together for quite some time and have bonded as a team.
"We trained with this combination only twice before the event."
The race was extra special for Bernice, also from Nanyang Girls, as it was her debut competition after receiving her Singapore citizenship in August.
"I missed previous meets because I was only a permanent resident before this and could only race at the Asean School Games or local competitions," said Bernice, whose parents are Malaysians.
The quartet's finish over the weekend brought Singapore's medal tally to three golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
The 4x100m mixed relay team, comprising Timothee Yap, Kugapriya, Pereira and Ariff Januri also finished first in 43.27sec.
Pereira, who won the women's 100m gold in 11.78sec, was just 0.2sec off the national record she set in April.
The results over the weekend have given Melvin food for thought.
He will be picking the final SEA Games relay team on Sunday, when the four girls and senior sprinters Pereira and Kugapriya will be taking part in a trial.
BREAK THE DRY SPELL
Regardless of which combination he chooses, Melvin is aiming for a podium finish during the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games.
He is eyeing the Republic's first women's relay medal at the biennial meet since Nurulaini Arifin, Mona Kunalan, Tan Shieh Li and Hiranisha Rasimudin won a bronze in Jakarta in 1997.
Hoping to break the 22-year dry spell, Melvin said: "We should not just go for personal bests or season bests.
"We've come to the stage where we have to tell ourselves to go for the podium."
He conceded that it would be tough to beat Thailand or 2017 champions Vietnam, who won in a Games record of 43.88sec.
But he added: "If we can increase the time differential and get a good ground speed, then we have a good chance of finishing in the top three."