Top five disappointing moments for Singapore at the SEA Games

Having addressed the highs, we reflect upon the low points for Team Singapore.

Kenneth Tan

Published: 16 December 2019, 10:41 AM

With the good, comes the bad, they say. While there are many who shone at the recently-concluded 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, there were some who did not live up to expectations.

Winning streaks were ended, infighting within fraternity and ill-discipline within the ranks…We take a thorough look at some of the biggest disappointments for Team Singapore and reflect on what lessons there are to be learnt.

1. Longstanding gold streak ended for men’s water polo

With every previous SEA Games came the routine gold medal in men’s water polo that was almost a certainty even before the opening ceremony gong sounded. However, that 27 gold medal winning streak that began in 1965 came to an abrupt end in the Philippines.

A 7-5 loss to Indonesia – which was their first loss in Games history – paved the way for a disappointing campaign for the men’s water polo team. PHOTO CREDIT: SNOC/ANDY CHUA

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end as they had to settle for an unfamiliar bronze after finishing behind eventual winners Indonesia and hosts Philippines in the five-team round-robin.

But there is no shame in losing – for even the greatest sporting empire will fall one day – what is important is how they rise after this unexpected setback.

2. No gold in women’s table tennis doubles for the first time in 22 years

Just like water polo, table tennis is a sport that traditionally guarantees success for Team Singapore at the SEA Games – especially in the women’s doubles event where they won every gold since 1997.

Not anymore as the pairs of Feng Tian Wei and Lin Ye, as well as Goi Rui Xian and Wong Xin Ru fell to their Thai counterparts in the semi-finals respectively – and had to be contented with joint-bronzes.

Rui Xian and Xin Ru (left to right) made their debut in this year’s Games. PHOTO CREDIT: SPORT SINGAPORE/DYAN TJHIA

Adding to the disappointment, the pair of Josh Chua and Koen Pang also lost to Vietnamese opponents in the final and had to settle for silver in the men’s doubles – as the table tennis representatives won just two of the four golds on offer.

But it is not all doom and gloom for the table tennis representatives, as Koen did more than make up for that loss by becoming the first local-born men’s single champion.

With the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) now turning the focus to nurture local-born talents, the future is certainly bright for the sport. The young quartet of Rui Xian, Xin Ru, Josh and Koen all made their debuts in the Games, and it looks like there are plenty of opportunities ahead for them and other rising paddlers to make their mark.

3. Athletics flop amidst infighting within fraternity

With 40-odd gold medals up for grabs, the athletics category makes a huge difference for countries in the overall medal tally. However, Singapore failed to attain even one in this edition, bringing home just three bronzes – as compared to two golds, two silvers and four bronzes in 2017.

Shanti Pereira (left) missed out on the gold in the 200m sprint for a second successive SEA Games, after winning the event in 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: SPORT SINGAPORE/JEREMY LEE

Long-distance runners Gordon Lim and Loh Yu Ting came in seventh and ninth in the marathon event – marking the first time since 2011 that Singapore failed to obtain a gold medal, or make it to the podium, in this category.

Their dismal performances should not come as a surprise though, for it is the end result of the massive infighting within the fraternity that has plagued the sport for the last few years. Tiffs between Singapore Athletics, coaches and athletes have been common, with Soh Rui Yong – winner of the 2015 and 2017 marathon events – shockingly omitted from the SEA Games team.

The onus is now on the Association to stop the infighting and return the focus to preparing for the next major competition.

4. Lack of focus cost a gold for shooting

Shooting is another sport that consistently delivers gold for Singapore at the SEA Games, yet there was none to be savoured this time round.

With 2017 gold medallists Jasmine Ser and Martina Veloso dropped on the basis of results at the national trials, the pressure was on the less-heralded Ho Xiu Yi and Adele Tan to deliver in the Individual 10m Air Rifle Women’s Final.

After excelling in the preliminary rounds, the nerves perhaps got to the duo in the final shootout as they settled for silver and bronze respectively. PHOTO CREDIT: SNOC/WEIXIANG LIM

A disappointing conclusion indeed, but the duo should have gained some valuable lessons that can only help their development.

Meanwhile having to watch from the sidelines for this edition, Jasmine and Martina should be raring to bounce back to reclaim their spots in the national team for major games.

5. Dismal outing for football overshadowed by disciplinary scandal

It was yet another sad story for Singapore football at the SEA Games as the Under-22 side failed to progress beyond the group stage for a third straight edition.

The only goals they managed to score were in a belated thrashing of Brunei 7-0 in an inconsequential final group match where they were already out of contention to qualify.

The footballers failed to net a single goal in their first four outings. PHOTO CREDIT: SNOC/WEIXIANG LIM

News would then emerge that nine out of the 20-strong squad broke an 11pm curfew the night after a 3-0 loss to Thailand in their third group game – allegedly visiting a casino before returning to their base in the wee hours.

The FAS came down hard on the misbehaving bunch, revealing their identities, with president Lim Kia Tong stating that they had ‘let down the entire nation’.

As such, the post-mortem has been shifted to this disciplinary scandal instead of focusing on the real issue of why the national sport has declined so much over the years. For sure indiscipline should not be tolerated, but is it a convenient strategy to distract the public from discussing about the poor results?

One thing is for sure though – radical changes are needed to pull Singapore football out of the doldrums and make the sport respectable again amongst the locals.

No one loves to dwell on the negatives, but sometimes it is important to reflect upon why and how things went wrong in order to make the future a better one. Onward to 2020, and we look forward to a good performance from Team Singapore at the Tokyo Olympics!

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