SEA Games thrills and spills: 7 stories that surprised Singapore

SEA Games thrills and spills: 7 stories that surprised Singapore

SEA Games 2019 softball
Singapore men's softball team celebrate their historic gold at the 2019 SEA Games on Sunday Dec 8, 2019. (Photo: Sport Singapore)

SINGAPORE: From planning around a typhoon to managing logistical hiccups and fielding teams for new sporting events, the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines has not been lacking in drama or excitement. 

As the 30th edition of the regional competition draws to a close on Wednesday (Dec 11), we take a look at some of Team Singapore’s highlights and learning points:


Softball: First gold a “dream come true”

SEA Games 2019 softball
Singapore men's softball team celebrate their historic gold at the 2019 SEA Games on Sunday Dec 8, 2019. (Photo: Sport Singapore)

It was one for the history books. 

Not only did Team Singapore’s upset of hosts and favourites Philippines give us our first ever softball gold at the Games, but behind that hard-won victory was proof of the tried and true adages of resourcefulness and perseverance.

Describing their victory as a “dream come true”, team captain Ivan Ng explained that their win did not come easy.

READ: ‘We’ve managed to topple a giant’: First the weeding, then the winning for Singapore’s men’s softball team

From long hours spent training on dimly lit, uneven ground to literally getting down and dirty with do-it-yourself sessions of weeding and transporting power generators, the men’s team showed us all that a little elbow grease and an attitude of “no excuses” go a long way to toppling a giant.

Underwater hockey: Gold rush in Games debut

Underwater hockey player Christina Tham poses with her gold medal at the SEA Games 2019
Underwater hockey player Christina Tham poses with her gold medals at the SEA Games 2019. (Photo: Christina Tham)

New sport? No problem.

This was unexpected from the get-go as Team Singapore playing underwater rose above expectations. 

Both Singapore men’s and women’s teams made a clean sweep in their events, bagging a bounty of four golds in underwater hockey’s Games debut.

The victories was that much sweeter for player Christina Tham who struck gold twice in two days at her third Games, a total of 36 years after her first medal.

COMMENTARY: Odd new sports at SEA Games aren't a bad thing for Singapore

The 50-year-old former national swimmer described herself as “third time lucky”, having previously taken home two silvers in 1981 and 1983.

“It feels incredible, awesome, unbelievable … I hope that it also sends a message out to everyone that age is really just a number and that you are only as old as you feel,” said Tham.

Badminton: First men’s final in more than a decade

Badminton SEA games finals LKY (1)
Singapore's Loh Kean Yew faces off against Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia in the men’s singles finals on Dec 9, 2019. (Photo: SNOC)

Not gold ... but a smashing performance nonetheless. 

Loh Kean Yew put up a strong showing when he came from behind to defeat top seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen in Manila to book a spot in the men’s singles final – the first time a Singapore badminton player has done so since 2007.

The Thai is currently ranked 13th in the world, while 21-year-old Loh is ranked 30th.

Loh finished with a silver medal after meeting Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia, who is world number 14. 

The last men’s singles gold won by Singapore was when Wong Shoon Keat triumphed on home soil in 1983.

Loh is currently Singapore’s highest ranked men’s shutter and previously made waves for beating two-time Olympic singles champion Lin Dan at the Thailand Masters earlier this year. 


Water polo: First loss in more than 50 years

Water Polo SEA Games Nov 28
The Singapore men’s water polo team lost to Indonesia on Nov 28, 2019. (Photo: SNOC) 

Singapore’s water polo reign came to a screeching halt this year after Indonesia trounced Malaysia on Nov 29 to take the lead in the men’s five-team round-robin competition, setting them clear at seven points at the top of the table. 

Singapore had previously won gold for a record 27 consecutive editions – or 54 years – of the Games.

And just a day earlier, the men’s team lost 7-5 to eventual champions Indonesia – their first loss in Games history

Indonesia had been runners-up to their arch-rivals Singapore in every edition of the biennial tournament since 2013.

The Singapore men’s water polo team eventually settled for bronze after beating Thailand 14-7. Former Singapore water polo players told CNA that the national team needed to go back to the drawing board and review their SEA Games performance. 

Table tennis: Dashed dreams in women’s doubles

Singapore’s Goi Rui Xian (right) and Wong Xin Ru in action at the SEA Games
Singapore’s Goi Rui Xuan (right) and Wong Xin Ru in action at the SEA Games. (Photo: Sport SG)

Team Singapore was on course for a third consecutive gold at the event, but it wasn't meant to be.

Instead, we had to settle for joint-bronze after our dream of defending the women’s table tennis doubles crown was dashed following the loss to Thailand in the semi-final.

Feng Tianwei and Lin Ye fell 3-2 to Thailand’s Komwong Nanthana and Sawettabut Jinnipa on Dec 7 while Goi Rui Xuan and Wong Xin Ru also lost 3-2 to Paranang Orawan and Sawettabut Suthasini.

The defeat meant Singapore could not retain the title previously won at the 2017 and 2015 Games.

This was one of the upsets of the Games. 

Football: Broken curfews, disciplinary action

Singapore sea games curfew
Singapore's footballers before heading off to the 30th SEA Games. (Photo: FAS/Instagram)

Time waits for no man and nine Singapore footballers learnt that the hard way after they were flagged for disciplinary action for breaking curfew at the Games.

The Football Association of Singapore, who named and shamed the players, called their behaviour “wholly unacceptable” with president Lim Kia Tong saying that the players had “let down the entire nation”.

Two sources who asked not to be named told CNA that the incident occurred on the night of Singapore’s 3-0 loss to Thailand on Dec 1. The team then went on to beat Brunei 7-0 on Dec 5.

The disciplinary scandal was yet another unfortunate black mark on the team’s poor showing at the Games, crashing out of contention against Vietnam after having gone four games without netting a single goal. 

Reacting to the news that the footballers would face “stiff sanctions”, many fans rallied in support of the boys.

“Don’t kill their spirit, give a little grace once in a while,” said CNA reader Kenneth L Victor.


Swimming: Strong showing by young athletes, “reality check” for Schooling

Singapore’s swimmers made a splash by matching their best showing at the Games with a total haul of 23 golds, on par with their 2015 Games bounty, while smashing several personal and competitive records along the way. 

However, amid the celebrations was cause for reflection for Olympic medalist Joseph Schooling. 

Schooling came second to compatriot Teong Tzen Wei in the 50m butterfly race on Dec 5. The Asian Games, national record and SEA Games record holder previously won the event at the 2011, 2015 and 2017 Games. 

COMMENTARY: Jo Schooling, a hunted man on a quest for gold and so much more

Three days later, Schooling failed to defend his 100m freestyle title against teammate Darren Chua, who pipped him to the top spot by 0.05s.  

Although Schooling found his result “disappointing”, he said the race had been a “good reality check”

He also admitted that he was not happy with his current physical condition, with seven months to the Olympics. 

“I’ve got a lot of work to do, things to sort out, I know,” Schooling said. 

The Olympic champion retained his 100m butterfly title, his pet event, but his time of 51.84 was a long way off his Olympic record of 50.39. In July this year, Caeleb Dressel shattered the 100m butterfly world record at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju with a time of 49.50. 

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Additional reporting by Matthew Mohan

Source: CNA/zl