Dawn of a new era in Singapore athletics?

The Story

The Straits Times recently carried this report on schoolboy long jumper Kenneth Wang Kan breaking a 26-year-old national record. Click here to read the original story.

My Opinion?

One of the best coaching hires ever by the Singapore Sports School would have to be its Georgian jumps coach, Valeri Obidko.

The results speak for themselves. In the space of just four years (he joined in 2004), he has created a growing platoon of promising jumpers, who have completely transformed the local athletics scene. Long-standing records have not only been broken (and isn’t it embarrassing that the records had been standing for 20 years or more before that?), they are also constantly being rewritten at least once a year.

And at the rate these young jumpers – Stefan Tseng, Mariam Shazana, Matthew Goh, Kenneth wang Kan etc – are improving, they are looking more and more like potential SEA and Asian Games medalists with each passing day.

That’s pretty impressive considering the fact that the Republic didn’t even have a track record in the jumps before Obidko’s arrival. 

So, sure, the man may have his critics. 

Some feel that he is a tad too arrogant for their liking. Others say that his trainees have a high injury rate because his training techniques and the intensity of his training sessions, that they are likely to burn out too quickly.

I say so what? Singapore athletics is on the cusp of an exciting new dawn: in the next two to four years, we are going to see medals coming in from a new source – the jumps. 

Think about it: when was the last time we ever won a SEA Games medal in the jumps? For that matter, when was the last time we ever won a SEA Games athletics medal using our own home-grown talents? 

Only two names come to mind: James Wong (who stopped competing after the 2005 SEA Games), and UK Shyam who won the 100m silver at the 2001 SEA Games. 

Think about it: When was the last time we saw three national records being broken in a single weekend (one at the SAAA’s All-Comers meet and two at the Pahang Open?). Four if you count Matthew Goh’s national junior record in the long jump the weekend before.

Think about what this means: No more having to rely on James to come out of retirement every two years to collect his nap-shot $10,000 bonus. No more relying on crap foreign talent, who clearly seem to have little love or respect for the Singapore passport. 

Once you’ve done that, think about what Valeri has achieved – and compare it with the little that has been achieved by foreign technical expertise in the same time frame.

And let’s be brutally frank here: Singapore is no Australia. Considering the kinds of societal pressures our athletes face, I’d rather they burn brightly on the international scene for a few years before retiring at, say, age 25 or 26 to focus on the other priorities in life. It’s the natural order of things. 

So here’s to Valeri and his young charges – keep up the great work, guys. And here’s hoping that you’ll bring back some medals from next year’s SEA Games.

Yours in sports,

Singapore Sports Fan

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