Waterskiers eye 4 of 11 golds
Fong believes, setting a four-gold target for waterskiers and wakeboarders
Singapore's best performance in waterskiing at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games was in 1997, when the team returned home with a haul of three gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Next month, former national waterskier Paul Fong believes the team will deliver a best-ever performance.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, the Singapore Waterski and Wakeboard Federation director and coach of elite performance said: "I would like to believe that we can win four gold medals out of the 11 on offer.
"That's on our radar, and I think it's achievable. That, along with maybe two silvers and a bronze to make it seven medals for Team Singapore."
Fong, 50, first represented Singapore at the SEA Games on home soil in 1983 and bagged a team bronze in waterskiing.
He won three silvers at the 1987 Games in Jakarta.
After Singapore's success in 1997, waterskiing didn't feature at the biennial Games until 2011 in Indonesia, and didn't make the programme again in 2013.
It is back this year, along with wakeboarding, and Fong is feeling confident.
"Our skiers and riders have better equipment to practise their craft now. Most importantly, the sport has become more accessible, with plenty of support being made available for both athletes and casual skiers.
"It's a process that has been years in the making and, because of that, I think our athletes can achieve much more than what I could in my time," he said.
The lack of international competition means the sport had enjoyed much less of the spotlight compared to table tennis and sailing here and, for Fong, this year's SEA Games is a perfect opportunity for waterskiing and wakeboarding to be introduced to a new generation of Singaporeans.
"What I like is how Sport Singapore has done its bit for the local waterskiing scene on the promotional front. Our athletes have the publicity that they need to create a following, like being featured in magazines and having various initiatives by the authorities to help endear them to fellow Singaporeans," he said.
"It's a SEA Games at home, and it should and will be a very big moment for many of the athletes to not only make history, but also to be a part of it in front of their own countrymen.
"That automatically increases the chances of Singaporeans coming down in numbers to show their support.
"That support will trickle down onto the skiers almost immediately.
"Becoming household names is just as important as winning medals."
Sasha Christian, who will be competing in both wakeboarding (women's and team) and waterskiing (women's slalom) is confident that by the time the events end on June 14, a glow will surround the sport.
"I believe that my teammates and I will do our best across all the events," said the 22-year-old.
"We've got a strong team this year and it'll be exciting to see the results at the end of all the action, and the medals and plaudits we will hopefully receive."
Medal contenders - Hot favourite
Events: Women's wakeboard, team wakeboard and women's slalom.
When it comes to the sport, the big name in Singapore is 22-year-old Sasha Christian.
She is the biggest crowd-puller here but, on June 11, she will be looking out for familiar faces among the fans on the banks of the Bedok Reservoir.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, Christian said: "I feel the pressure to perform, but it's the kind of pressure that makes me work harder, rather than feel nervous.
"I was anxious at first, but now, with the Games coming even nearer, the excitement exceeds any anxiety I may feel.
"I can't wait to put on a show in front of those closest to me - my family, my coach and everyone who has believed in me. I owe it to them."
Since her breakthrough 11 years ago as the Republic's youngest representative at the Asian Wakeboarding Championships in Guangzhou, China, she is now South-east Asia's top athlete.
Christian won the Asian Wakeboard Championships in 2009, bagged the SEA Games gold in wakeboarding in 2011 and won the women's slalom at the Asian Beach Games in Phuket, Thailand last year.
Next month, she is aiming for at least two gold medals from her three events - women's wakeboard individual and team event, and women's slalom.
"I know what I need to do to get a good finish, so now I'm focusing on my performance and training sessions and also hitting the gym to be in top condition," she said.
On form and hungry
TNP PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO
MARK LEONG KOK LOONG
Event: Men's slalom.
He announced his intentions when he won the men's slalom at the Indonesia Open in March.
At just 17, Mark Leong's win would have been noticed by Indonesia's Daud Fath Wangka and Indra Hardinata, the two big names in the region, as they entered their final preparations for the SEA Games in Singapore next month.
Daud won the event at the 2011 Games in Palembang - the last time waterskiing featured at the biennial Games - while Indra finished third.
Mark's performance means he is also one of the contenders for gold.
His confidence was clear when The New Paper met him recently, although he is aware that expectations can set him up for a fall.
This will be his first SEA Games, and he is one of the youngest athletes on the team.
"My coaches, friends and family aren't the only people expecting me to get gold in the slalom. I am, too," he said.
"I think it's a realistic target, even though it's my first SEA Games.
"I've competed in international events before, but none of them can compare to the SEA Games in terms of size and reach. I'm so excited."
The 1.86m-tall Mark knows the difference between gold and the minor medals could well come down to the smallest details.
"I need to constantly remind myself that the most important thing is, first, to have fun," he said.
"And then, secondly, it's all about gaining experience.
"It won't be easy, that's for sure. The slalom is a sudden-death kind of thing. One mistake, and you start crashing into the water.
"That shows just how much fortunes can change the moment you get in the water and the boat picks up speed. That's how thin the line between gold and failure can be."
Anything mum can do...
KALYA MARISA KEE LIN
Event: Women's slalom, women's tricks, women's jump and women's overall.
Fans of waterskiing may recall the name May Lwin, who won the women's tricks event silver for Singapore at the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta.
By the time the 2015 Games ends, there is a high chance Singaporeans will take Kalya Kee into their hearts and minds, too.
Kalya is the daughter of Lwin and, just like her mother, the 19-year-old is a SEA Games silver medallist, finishing second in the wakeboard event in 2011 in Palembang.
"My mother made her mark all those years ago, but it's my turn now," said Kalya. "I'm into the sport because of my mother, so there's no better way to make her proud than at this SEA Games, which is the biggest competition I've participated in at home.
"Two golds, in the slalom and overall, are my target, along with at least a podium finish in the other two events."
Switching from wakeboarding to waterskiing in 2012, Kalya has thrived. She was second in the slalom event at the Indonesia Open in March when competing against top names from countries like Japan and Malaysia.
And she lost only to Asia's top skiier, Saaya Hirosawa of Japan.
"The Indonesia Open was a good outing for me and the team, providing some good practice for us to gauge our abilities ahead of the SEA Games," she said.
"Everyone knows that waterskiing and wakeboarding aren't the biggest sports in Singapore, and we have a small but dedicated fanbase.
"So it's a duty for us to make those around us proud. Plus, my home could use a few more medals."
Events: Men's and team wakeboard
GOOI JIA YI
Events: Women's and team wakeboard
Events: Men's and team wakeboard
NG SIM HWEE
Event: Team wakeboard
MELANIE JANE TAN
Event: Team wakeboard
Event: Women's trick
Waterski & Wakeboard
- When: June 11-14
- Where: Bedok Reservoir (free)
- On offer: 11 gold medals
- Historical haul: 5 golds, 9 silvers, 5 bronzes
- Milestone:1987 - Jasmie Hussein won Singapore's first gold in the sport at the Jakarta Games, in the men's slalom.
Did you know?
The 2011 Games in Indonesia was the first time that wakeboarding was added to the waterskiing roster, and the region's best practitioner of the sport, our very own Sasha Christian, won gold in the women's event.
The New Paper's medal prediction:
Malaysia and Indonesia have a few talented youngsters, but Singapore can count on individuals like Mark Leong and Sasha Christian. Expect the duo, along with Kalya Kee, to lead the charge and meet the target of four golds.