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Shanti sprinting for history, swimmers making a splash: What will the 32nd SEA Games hold for Team Singapore?

Shanti sprinting for history, swimmers making a splash: What will the 32nd SEA Games hold for Team Singapore?

(Clockwise from top left) Shanti Pereira, Quah Jing Wen, Peter Gilchrist and Elle Koh are some of the athletes representing Singapore at the 32nd SEA Games. (Photos: SportSG, SNOC, CNA)

PHNOM PENH: One year after Team Singapore’s athletes competed at the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, which was postponed from 2021 to 2022 due to the pandemic, they will once again be back in action at the biennial sporting event.

This time, they will be in Cambodia – the first time the country is hosting the Games. Most of the sporting action will be concentrated in the capital city of Phnom Penh, with some competitions being held in other locations such as Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.

Team Singapore will field 558 athletes across 30 sports at the Games. Cambodia will also host the 12th ASEAN Para Games after the SEA Games, with 26 athletes across six sports representing Singapore.

Here are five questions top of mind ahead of Team Singapore's Games campaign:

1. Can Shanti make history?

No Singaporean woman has done the 100m and 200m sprint double at the Games. But Shanti Pereira could well be the first.

Singapore’s sprint queen comes into the Games in a scintillating vein of form, having smashed a number of national records in March and April.

Last month, she clocked a new national record of 22.89s in the women’s 200m heats at the Australian Track and Field Open in Brisbane – the fastest timing set by an Asian woman in 2023. At the same meet, she notched a new national record of 11.37s en route to winning the women's 100m finals. That timing was the second fastest set by an Asian woman in 2023.

At the last edition of the Games, Pereira won 200m gold with a time of 23.52s, and took second behind the Philippines’ Kayla Richardson in the 100m. Richardson timed 11.60s, while the Singaporean finished 0.02s behind her.

2. Will former champions reclaim title?

The 2022 Games in Hanoi was a bittersweet one for Peter Gilchrist, one of the top billiards players in the world.

Gilchrist fell short of making it seven golds in a row in the men’s singles event as he was upset by Myanmar’s Pauk Sa. The Singaporean had not lost in the event at the Games since 2009.

But he still bagged a gold for Singapore after partnering with Alex Puan in the men’s doubles. This was the first time a Singaporean pair won the doubles at the Games.

The 55-year-old will aim to recapture the singles title in Phnom Penh, and perhaps even start a new winning streak.

Likewise, the men’s water polo team will be looking to go on a new winning run of their own after heartbreak at the 2019 Games.

They had been Southeast Asia’s best for 27 SEA Games, a streak that spanned 52 years. But the team finished with a bronze after ending the Games with two wins, a draw and a 7-5 defeat at the hands of champions Indonesia in the 2019 Games.

They have had four years, instead of the usual two, to stew in the juices of their defeat to Indonesia. Water polo was dropped by hosts Vietnam from the last edition of the Games and this will be the team's first chance to recapture the gold since their painful defeat in the Philippines.

3. Can swim team surpass best haul of 23 golds?

This will be the first Games since 2011 that former Olympic champion Joseph Schooling will not compete in. Schooling announced his withdrawal in March, saying he was "not at the level" at which he expects to compete at the event.

But the swim team is brimming with talent, and could leapfrog their showing of 21 golds at the last Games, and possibly even surpass their best-ever haul of 23.

There's Teong Tzen Wei, who cemented his status as the region's best this year when he clocked Games records in the 50m butterfly (23.04s) and the 50m freestyle (21.93s).

He is already among Asia’s best – since 2022, only two swimmers have been faster in the 50m freestyle, and none have surpassed his personal best of 23.03s in the 50m butterfly.

Last year, Teong finished fourth in the men's 50m butterfly final at the 2022 FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Melbourne. His time of 22.01s equalled the Asian record he set a day earlier in the heats.

Watch out for debutant Nicholas Mahabir as well. 

The 17-year-old, who is based in the United States, is the current national record holder in the 100m breaststroke. His time of 1.00.37 is significantly quicker than the current Games record of 1.01.17, set by Vietnam’s Pham Thanh Bao at the last Games.

The 28.09s which Mahabir clocked in the 50m breaststroke at McDonald's Queensland Championships last year is also faster than Pham’s winning time of 28.28s in Hanoi. Malaysia's Andrew Goh could be a factor in this race, having clocked a national record of 28.10s earlier this year.

Then there's 22-year-old Quah Jing Wen. Three years after her older brother Zheng Wen took home six golds at the 2019 Games, Jing Wen replicated that success with six of her own in Hanoi.

Jing Wen clinched victories in three individual events (100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley) as well as three team events (4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle, 4x100 medley relay)

She already has 15 Games golds at the age of 22, and should add a few more to the collection in Phnom Penh.

4. Is a rebound on the cards for table tennis?

It was a tough outing for Singapore table tennis at the last Games, as they lost the title of Southeast Asia's top nation to Thailand for the first time in more than a decade.

But since then, things have been on the up. There were strong results at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (women's team, women's singles and women's doubles gold as well as men's team silver) in addition to the breakthrough of young players such as Izaac Quek.

Part of the new generation of table tennis players coming through the ranks in Singapore, 16-year-old Quek has notched impressive results in recent times. At the Singapore Smash earlier this year, he beat Commonwealth Games men's singles champion Sharath Kamal Achanta and went on to upset Sweden’s world No. 26 Mattias Falck.

Quek is currently ranked 68th in the world. Keep an eye out for him and a youthful Singapore squad as they compete in Phnom Penh.

5. Who will be Team Singapore's new stars?

One of the most exciting things at each Games is witnessing the emergence of young talent. Besides Mahabir and Quek, a number of youngsters could star at this edition of the Games.

There's 18-year-old footballer Danelle Tan, who earlier this year became the first Singaporean woman to play in a European League after she made her debut for the London Bees, who compete in the FA Women's National League South.

On the green, keep an eye out for 20-year-old Hailey Loh. Loh will arrive in Phnom Penh fresh off making history as the first Singaporean golfer to win an individual title at a NCAA conference championship. The California Baptist University student should be right up there with the best in Cambodia.

Precocious fencer Elle Koh made her Games debut in Hanoi at the age of 14 and clinched gold in the women's individual epee competition as well as in the team epee event. She will be looking to retain that title in Phnom Penh but will face stiff competition from teammate and Olympian Kiria Tikanah.

Catch the 32nd SEA Games Cambodia 2023 live with three dedicated channels on mewatch. Sign in now at to catch all the action for free, or catch highlights on Mediacorp Entertainment on YouTube.

Source: CNA/mt(cy)


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