Shot putter Zhang Guirong may have won a second athletics gold for Singapore at the SEA Games today but it was the men’s national 4x100m quartet that was the talk of the town after their surprise silver in the event.
Gary Yeo, Muhammad Elfi Mustapa, Lee Cheng Wei and Muhammad Amirudin Jamal ran the relay of their lives when they clocked a new national record time of 39.82sec to finish second behind Thailand on the final day of the SEA Games track and field competition.
The time was 0.18sec faster than the national mark of 40.10sec which was set at the 2007 Korat Games. Of that quartet, only Gary Yeo is the sole surviving member while Poh Seng Song, who was also part of that quartet, was a reserve today.
Indonesia was third while Laos finished fourth in the four-country race.
The silver will be particularly sweet to Amirudin who narrowly missed out on the 100m bronze by 0.01sec on Monday.
And you can also be sure that the achievments will also be gleefully used by embattled Singapore Athletic Association president Loh Lin Kok as ammunition to rebut a recent spate of criticisms of his administration from top sporting officials.
On Tuesday, during a Team Singapore gathering at the Singapore embassy in Vientiane, Sports Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan had said that the SAA needs to do an internal house cleaning.
“Without athletics firing on all cylinders, Singapore’s final performance in multi-sport events will always be hamstrung,” he said in one of the strongest rebukes of the SAA in recent years.
Yesterday, Teo Ser Luck, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development, Youth and Sports, fired another salvo at the SAA.
Speaking after James Wong’s victory in the discus, he said he was disappointed that in the flagship sport of every multi-sport Games, Singapore are standing still.
“I can’t say we are a sporting nation until we sort things out in athletics,” he said pointedly.
“We have a strong swimming tradition which also has a renewal process. I need athletics to step up.”
One athlete who certainly stepped up today was Zhang.
The 31-year-old shot-putter whose testy relationship with the SAA over the past few years coincided with a massive slump in form, bounced back from the wilderness in style by capturing the women’s gold today.
The China-born naturalised citizen, who holds the national record of 18.57m but was a major flop at last year’s Beijing Olympics with her best effort of 16.23m, threw an improved 17.12m today to successfully defend her crown.
Zhang’s win means that Singapore came away from the last day fo the track and field competition with a total haul of two golds and a silver, a paltry collection of medals considering that 45 gold medals were at stake in athletics in Vientiane.
Singapore finished seventh out of nine countries, just above Laos and Cambodia who both won a bronze each. Thailand was the overall champion with 14 golds.
Meanwhile, the national U-23 football team won the bronze for the second consecutive Games when they beat host Laos 3-1 in the third-fourth place play-offs in front of a 20,000-strong partisan crowd.
Singapore, meek and outclassed 1-4 by Vietnam in the semi-finals, bounced back with a more positive performance against Laos. They were also clearly the superior side.
Khairul Nizam, Fazli Ayub and Fadhil Noor scored to give Singapore a 3-0 lead before Lamnao Singto pulled one back in the 88th minute.
However, it must be said that the consolation goal inspired the Laotians to go on a late charge and caused Singapore to experience some nerve-wracking moments during the seven minutes of stoppage time.
Singapore also won a silver in the women’s 9-ball in cuesports and in women’s badminton doubles
Charlene Chai tried her best but was unable to stop reigning world champion Rubilyn Amit of the Philippines from winning 7-3.
Singapore pair Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari were also out of their depth as they were outclassed 12-21, 11-21 by Malaysia’s Chin Ee Hui and Wong Pei Tty in the badminton doubles final.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan