Long jumper Suhairi fired up for Paralympics
After buzz of Asean Para Games, Team Singapore eye a big push from now
National para athlete Suhairi Suhani will head Down Under next week hoping a good performance will earn him a spot on the grandest stage of them all.
At the 2015 Asean Para Games held in Singapore last month, the 18-year-old bagged a silver in the men's long jump F20 class (intellectual disability) with a personal best of 6.66m.
The effort helped him cross the qualifying mark (6.30m) for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in September.
But Suhairi wants more.
He will be competing at the IPC Grand Prix meet in Canberra, Australia, next weekend and is aiming to set a new personal best.
He was one of 218 para athletes and officials who attended a special tea reception hosted by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday afternoon.
One of Suhairi's coaches, former national sprint king Mohamed Hosni, explained: "He has already met the qualification mark with the Asean Games jump.
"But to be extra sure of a place (at the Paralympics), he wants to achieve a better distance.
"So in case there is a cut-off of maybe only the top 20, hopefully he would have done enough."
Hosni added that Suhairi will also be finalising paperwork to get his INAS (International Federation for sport for para-athletes with an intellectual disability) certification, to confirm his eligibility for the Paralympics.
The teenager was thrilled at the prospect of representing the nation in Rio.
"I've always dreamt of representing Singapore at the Paralympics, so I'm very hopeful," said Suhairi.
"If I manage to go there, I will give my best. If I get a medal, it would be a bonus.
"It would be a dream come true."
Malaysia's Abdul Latif Romly won gold at the Asean Para Games with a leap of 7.43m, which bettered the 2012 Paralympics gold-winning distance of 7.25m set by Spain's Jose Exposito.
If he does earn a ticket to Rio, Suhairi will join other Team Singapore para athletes such as equestrian's Laurentia Tan and swimming's Theresa Goh, who have also met the necessary qualifying marks.
Associate Professor Teo-Koh Sock Miang, president of the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC), said continued excellence of Singapore's athletes will help build on the buzz generated during the Games.
Team Singapore finished sixth in the overall standings with 24 golds, 17 silvers and 22 bronzes, the country's best in the history of the event.
"The onus is on our athletes," she said.
"Then, with the public education that happened during the APG, (we have to) work with Sport Singapore to continually engage the public.
"We want to offer volunteer opportunities to maybe coach some of our sports or even the beginners' programme.
"Hopefully, some of the volunteers who volunteered during the Games will be looking to volunteer further (in disability sports).
"Those are the avenues we are looking at."
Teo-Koh felt last year's Para Games helped the SDSC's affiliates and voluntary welfare organisations discover the power of sport.
And while she is "realistic" and expects a drop in public interest now that the Games are gone, Teo-Koh hopes the positive effects linger on.
"People need to see and hear (disability sports) more," said Teo-Koh.
"We need to maintain that public presence.
"Definitely people are now aware. But I honestly don't see us keeping it 100 per cent at that level.
"But if we have impacted enough people to want to come and watch disability sport and be inspired by what our athletes do, then we hope they continually look for those kinds of events as they come up."