Judoka Wee wants to prove a point
Having qualified ahead of the SEA Games champion, Wee wants to bow out with the gold
Wee Pui Seng stands at 1.81 metres, weighs 115kg and described himself as having a "pretty chill" personality.
Reigning South-east Asia (SEA) Games judo (over 100kg category) champion Ho Han Boon stacks up at 1.93m and 205kg.
Side by side on the mat, it looks like a mismatch, as if a mini-bar has come up against an industrial freezer.
But looks can be deceiving.
Twice, Wee beat the bigger Ho, first at the Singapore Adidas All Comers Judo Championship last August, and then again at a closed internal selection event in February to make the cut for the SEA Games.
On both occasions, Wee won by an ippon - throwing Ho on his back with impetus and control - to score instant wins.
Wee's victory over an opponent 90kg heavier was all the more remarkable considering he came out of retirement only last year to take part in the Games selection trials.
The 29-year-old explained that in judo, victory does not always belong to the biggest or strongest exponent, especially in his current category which does not have any upper weight limit.
"I used to be from a lower weight category, so I used my experience from that category and was able to move with more agility," he said.
National judo coach Low Chee Kiang added: "This sport is all about taking advantage of the opponents' lack of balance, and using movement to topple the opponent."
After flooring the 2013 SEA Games champion, Wee knows that he is expected to deliver gold, something that has eluded him in four previous attempts from 2003 to 2009.
All he could show for his efforts were a bronze in the under-100kg class in Hanoi 2003, Vietnam, and a silver in the same class in Vientiane 2009, Laos.
Instead, it was Ho who ended a 24-year wait for a judo gold in Naypyidaw 2013, Myanmar, but Wee insisted he does not feel pressured to match that feat. "On the contrary, there is less pressure because Han Boon has done it," said the second dan black belt.
"I used to dream of being the person to break the gold-medal drought.
"But now, it's like the burden has been lifted off my shoulders.
"It's my fifth SEA Games, and there won't be so much pressure. I guess I'm pretty chill about it now."
Wee wasn't always so in love with judo, which he first encountered at 13 when he enrolled in what was then known as The Chinese High School.
He said: "The school had a sports aptitude test for all the new students, where we tried out various sports.
"I did well for softball because I could bat quite far, and judo because I showed good throwing technique.
"Even though I was more keen on softball, judo was one of the school's three core sports then, and they insisted that I try it out for three months.
"I might have had to look for another school if I didn't, and so I did.
"I began to appreciate the sport more by the second month, when we started one-to-one sparring.
"It's an intriguing sport because if you are good, you are able to control and manoeuvre opponents.
"You can win by pinning the opponent flat on his back for 20 seconds, by submission through arm locks and chokes, and there are maybe more than 50 ways to throw an opponent- depending on timing and position.
"There is a great sense of satisfaction when you are able to throw an opponent and win."
Wee was still a teenager when he bagged bronze in his first SEA Games outing in 2003, but had to retire after 2009 "to focus on studies in the Singapore Management University and the subsequent job hunt".
Coincidentally, his first job took him to top judo nation Japan, where he has been working in a glass manufacturing company, engaging in international sales.
So, whenever he wasn't travelling, he would keep himself in shape by training thrice a week in judo clubs in Japan.
But when Wee realised that the SEA Games was going to be held in Singapore, he took leave from work and paid his own way back to compete in local competitions to see if he still had it.
"I came back because being able to fight in front of family and friends in a SEA Games on home ground will be a special experience," he said.
"I have been to four SEA Games, won a bronze and a silver, but never the gold. So I want to give it one last shot.
"After this, I'll retire for real."
- Where: Singapore Expo Hall 2 (ticketed)
- When: Today to Monday
- On offer: 12 gold medals
- Historical medal haul: 21 golds, 36 silvers, 48 bronzes
- Milestones: K S Moorthy was the first Singaporean to medal at the South-east Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games, when he took gold in the open category in 1965. The gold medals dried up after Tang Soon Onn and Edmund Tan won in 1989, before Ho Han Boon broke the drought in 2013.
- The team: Tan Yee Chin, Ang Xuan Yi, Tania Forichon, Lee You Ren, Soo Qin Qi, Walter Soh, Gary Chow, Gabriel Yang, Timothy Loh, Wee Pui Seng.
- Did you know: The terms for scoring are: ippon, which refers to a forceful throw that lands an opponent on his or her back, scoring an instant win; waza-ari, a lesser throw with insufficient force that lands an opponent on his or her back, two of which equal an ippon; and yuko, a throw that places an opponent on his or her side, none of which equals an ippon or waza-ari.
- TNP's prediction: Retaining the one gold they won in 2013 would be great, and there should be room for a number of silvers and bronzes from this talented squad.