We just want a place to train: Closure of JCube ice-skating rink a blow to athletes
The Rink, which is Singapore's only Olympic-sized ice-skating rink, is where ice hockey, speed skating and other athletes train.
SINGAPORE: Over the years, the ice-skating rink at Jurong East shopping mall JCube has been a "second home" for a small group of Singaporeans.
Some are students, others full-time national servicemen. Some are car salespeople, others delivery drivers. United by one cause – representing the nation.
The Rink, as it is called, is where "blood, sweat and tears" were shed over the years, national ice hockey player Tiffany Yeoh told CNA.
"It's where all the memories were created, where I first learnt (the sport), where I met friends and where those friends became team-mates, people you fight for on the ice," Yeoh said.
But Yeoh and her teammates could soon find themselves without a training venue after the announcement by developer CapitaLand on Tuesday (Feb 7) that JCube will cease operations in six months' time.
The building will be redeveloped into a 40-storey apartment block, with commercial space on the first and second storeys.
The mall will close for good at 10pm on Aug 6.
The Rink, which is Singapore's only Olympic-sized ice-skating rink, is a training venue for athletes from the Singapore Ice Hockey Association (SIHA) and Singapore Ice Skating Association (SISA).
The ice hockey association told CNA that the move could stifle the progress made by the sport in recent years.
National development director Joewe Lam pointed to how the men's team had clinched a silver SEA Games medal in the Philippines in 2019, while the youth team took silver at the Under-20 Asia and Oceania Championships last year.
"Our team is progressing, on the rise. This will put a stop (to that), or make us go (on a) U-turn," he explained.
He also expressed concerns that the rink's closure would see fewer people taking up ice hockey in Singapore, making it harder to develop talent.
For now, the association's plans for the future remain uncertain.
The only other ice-skating rink in Singapore is a smaller facility at Leisure Park Kallang, but the infrastructure may not be suitable, said Mr Lam, who previously represented the national team.
Should the team not have a place to train, one possible solution would be training camps in locations such as Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, said Mr Lam. This would be supplemented by regular off-ice training sessions, with players using roller skates instead of ice skates.
"If there is ice, we train. If there is no ice, we tahan (bear with it)," he added.
A POSSIBLE NEW FACILITY?
At the same time, there could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
In response to queries from CNA, the Singapore Ice Skating Association said it is in discussions with Sport Singapore about a new facility for training and competitions.
"We are hopeful that this facility will be a dedicated national training centre that will be purpose-built for training for the national and development teams, as well as hosting of international competitions," it said.
When asked by CNA about The Rink's closure, SportSG said it was a "commercial decision" by CapitaLand.
"SportSG is working with the respective National Sports Associations for ice sports on plans for alternative facilities to support our athletes' short- and long-term training needs," it added.
The ice-skating association added that it was informed earlier about the impending closure of The Rink but did not know the exact date until officially notified on Tuesday.
"Our sporting aspirations remain unchanged. However, depending on the timeline for the new facility and other alternatives, we may have to adjust our programmes," it said.
For short-track speed skating, it is possible to do cross-training via inline speed skating at the foundational level, said former national speed skater Lucas Ng.
Ng, who clinched silver in the men's 1,000m short-track speed skating event at the 2017 SEA Games, said both sports are closely related in terms of their "foundation and "overall technique" for non-competitive skaters. As skaters advance to a higher level, overseas training stints are recommended, he added.
"I don't think the sport will be given up on or be forgotten as our skaters can easily adapt to ice again once ice is available," he said.
Ng, who runs a skating academy, said short-track speed skaters are used to making the most of what they have.
"It is another chance for us to show that we can still continue building, we can still continue striving for the sport despite having another hurdle to cross."
Despite these circumstances, Yeoh stressed that her ice hockey team will continue to press on.
"Those bonds will still remain and we still remain committed to making things work moving forward, but we also are hopeful for a future rink to be built and hopefully as soon as possible," she said.
"I'm planning to stick to it all the way, even with all these troubles because I grew up with this sport and fell in love with it. So I won't just give it up because of this closure," said men's national team player Cael Chua.
All Singapore's ice hockey players hope for is a place where they can train, regardless of whether it is a temporary or permanent facility, said Mr Lam.
"Anywhere in Singapore, we are willing to just go and train," he said. "We just need a place."