All great sporting streaks are meant to be broken.
What do Arsenal, Roger Federer, the United States men’s basketball team and the Singapore men’s water polo team have in common?
Yes, they all enjoyed long unbeaten sporting streaks. And yes, all of them saw their proud records being ended somewhere along the way.
It is in the nature of sports for empires to fall and rise again.
The Singapore men’s water polo team’s run of 27 straight gold medals and undefeated streak since 1965 was ended by Indonesia in the recently-concluded Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Yip Ren Kai, former Vice Captain of the National Water Polo team, said: “I don’t think anyone expected us to lose a match, let alone lose the gold medal. The important thing now is how to support the players because it must have been really difficult for them.”
“Our water polo WhatsApp groups went quiet – obviously everyone was in shock and no one knew what to say.”
Mental strength was crucial
Ren Kai believed that the loss was not a preparation or complacency issue. “On any other day against any Southeast Asia team, they would have won. It was down to the performance on the day itself.”
Ren Kai recalled the 2009 SEA Games where the team was on the verge of losing the final match but the thought of the gold medal legacy strengthened the team’s resolve to go all the way and win.
In the same vein, Samuel Wong, team manager at five SEA Games, felt that the Indonesian team showed more determination and passion than the Singaporean team.
“At this SEA Games it seems like I’m watching a completely different team,” he told Youth.SG, “We are physically strong as a team, but are we mentally strong? From our displays, I’m a bit concerned.”
The burden of a long legacy
Samuel believed the longstanding record meant it was always going to be a ‘no-win’ situation for the team.
“Every SEA Games batch, be it team officials or players, are burdened by this legacy and are not willing to be the first team to lose the gold,” he commented, “We always have to manage expectations.”
Samuel recalled the early warning signs foretelling the legacy’s end. “I was there when Indonesia held us to a 4-4 draw in the 2017 edition. They should have won that game before we managed to equalise in the final few minutes.”
Nevertheless, Ren Kai thought the loss could be used as motivation, and allowed the team to go into the next SEA Games without the additional baggage of defending their record. He called it a ‘chance for the next generation to stamp their mark with a new legacy.’
Defeat also brings the chance to relook at how things are done in the present and the areas to improve for the future.
“It’s important that the boys learn from the lessons and not let this be a setback to them,” said Samuel, “There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s just a matter of time before we bring back the gold medal again.”
Ren Kai added: “So the players definitely must stick together. They’re a young team who have a bright future ahead of them.”
As the saying goes – it’s not how hard you fall, it’s how you get back up.
2021 SEA Games, you ready? Our Singapore water polo boys will definitely be!
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