(Source: www.todayonline.com)

SINGAPORE — They created history at the previous SEA Games by clinching Singapore’s first-ever gold medals in the sport of synchronised swimming.

However, more than half of that successful synchronised swimming team, which won two titles in the Team and Free combination events, subsequently dropped out to focus on their academic studies.

While a new-look team will feature at the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) is still confident that they will be able to repeat their golden haul this August.

The national sports association may have set a conservative official target of one gold medal, but SSA’s vice-president for synchronised swimming Philip Lee told TODAY that he is quietly optimistic that the team will be able to surpass that goal for a best-ever haul this time.

“Achieving that (one gold) target shouldn’t be a problem for us because we are confident that we can retain our gold medal in the team event,” said Mr Lee.

“But there are five medals up for grabs this time, and I personally believe that we can win about three golds because we are strong in both the duet and solo events as well, so we’ll definitely be aiming higher than the target that has been set for us.”

According to Mr Lee, the appointment of renowned Canadian coach Julie Sauve as a consultant last year has seen an improvement in the synchronised swimmers’ technical competency. Sauve, who has more than 37 years of experience coaching at the elite level, is currently based in Canada, but keeps in close contact with the national coaching setup – which comprises team manager Lee, head coach Maryna Tsimashenka and assistant coach Katsiaryana Kulpo – to share her knowledge and expertise.

Sauve is expected to fly into Singapore next week to oversee the team’s preparations for the World Championships in Budapest in July.

Mr Lee believes that having Sauve on board has benefitted them greatly, as he said: “Julie’s a high-calibre coach who is of the sort of level that (former swimming head coach) Sergio Lopez is.

“Since we’ve had her come in as a consultant, she’s already helped to improve us technically, and she has been sharing her knowledge and experience of Olympic-level routines that we hope our girls can learn from.”

Earlier this year in March, Singapore trumped Malaysia, their closest South-east Asian rivals in the sport, at the 7th Make Up Forever French Open in all four of their events.

But with the Games set to be held in Malaysia this year, Lee admits that the host nation holds a crucial edge over them with homeground advantage on their side.

“As you know, synchronised swimming is a very subjective sport as it relies on the judges’ own assessments to give the scores,” said Mr Lee. “As such, homeground advantage plays a crucial role because the atmosphere of the place can influence how they score the routines. It definitely won’t be easy at all for us.

“So, it’s important for us to ensure that all aspects of our routine, from our choreography work, to our technical skills to the overall presentation, must be top-notch in order to stand a chance of winning.”

Mr Lee also hopes that continued success in the sport at the SEA Games, Asian or international level will encourage more athletes to seriously pursue the sport in future.

He pinpointed the high-level of commitment needed to succeed at synchronised swimming as the reason why not many are willing to stick with the sport for the long-term.

Said Lee: “We have enough synchronised swimmers on a broad level. But the problem we have is with the commitment of the athlete(s) on the high-performance side.

“Synchronised swimming is a bit different from swimming…we need to have various aspects of training and the hours needed for that are quite long. So it’s not easy for athletes to balance other commitments like studies with high-performance training for the sport.

“As such, some of them might drop out along the way or not be able to commit as much as we would need them to.

“Hopefully though, if we get better and win more medals at the major games, that might make the sport more popular and entice people to pursue the sport at a higher level. The important thing is the belief in the sport…we must make people believe that there are opportunities here in Singapore to be able reach the top level of the sport.”

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