Today’s editions of TODAY ( “Zhang fails to meet target but is still on course for Olympics” ) and The Straits Times ( “S’pore Awarded Women’s 470 slot” ) have differing reports on whether national shot put record holder Zhang Guirong will be given the green light to compete at the Beijing Olympics or whether her place will be given to sprinter Amanda Choo, who will then compete as a wildcard entry in the women’s 100m.
This situation has arisen after Zhang threw a poor 16.48m at the third leg of the Asian Grand Prix in Hanoi, Vietnam. The SAA had set her a target of 16.95m, within 1.5 percent of the 17.21m she had thrown at last year’s SEA Games, which was also an Olympic ‘B’ qualifying mark. Zhang had also thrown 16.8m and 16.77m at the first two legs of the Asian Grand Prix in Thailand.
TODAY quoted SAA assistant technical director C. Veeramani as saying that Zhang should get the nod. However, The Straits Times reported that the SAAA is set to nominate Amanda for the Beijing slot.
My stand in this case would be the same as my stand in the Singapore Badminton Association’s selection dilemma over whether to give Ronald Susilo or Kendrick Lee the sole men singles slot at the Beijing Olympics.
I went for Kendrick even though he is below Ronald in the world rankings (No 34 compared to Ronald’s 17 ) because at age 24, I felt he has age on his side, is potentially hungrier for success, and has more potential for growth. In the end, the SBA went with Ronald.
In this case, I would plump for sprinter Amanda Choo for the same reasons.
Some of you may think it’s because I’m biased towards Zhang because she is a naturalised citizen, a Chinese national who was granted Singapore citizenship in 2003.
But in this case, I think the facts speak for themselves for Amanda being the obvious choice.
Sure, Zhang has met the grade for Olympic selection. She cleared the qualifying mark of 17.20m, the qualifying distance for Beijing, at the SEA Games last year (she won the gold medal for the distance too ).
But since then, Zhang’s competition results have been pretty abysmal. The 29-year-old Shenyang-based athlete has not been able to breach the 17m mark.
That’s not all. If you check Zhang’s distances in the past three years, you will find that they have been on an alarming decline since 2005 when she won the gold at the Asian Athletics Championships with her national record hurl of 18.57m.
She threw 17.40m at the 2005 SEA Games in Vietnam ( she won the gold with it). Then she threw 17.39m at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, to finish fourth.
After that came the above-mentioned 17.20m at the 2007 SEA Games before this current string of high to mid 16m throws.
If this is not concrete proof that Zhang’s better days are increasingly passing her by, then I don’t know how else to measure Zhang’s development as an athlete.
Besides, even if Zhang somehow manages to breach the 17m mark again in the run-up to the Olympics, she is still a no-hoper in the medal stakes as the bronze-medal distance at the last Olympics, the 2004 Athens Games, was 19.49m.
So, perhaps it is time to be brutal and axe Zhang in favour of Amanda Choo.
Sure, Amanda is a medal no-hoper at Beijing too ( Her national record of 12.12sec is nowhere near the 2004 Athens Games bronze-medal time of 10.97sec ).
But there are three things that are currently to her advantage: her age, her consistency and her potential for growth.
At 20, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student has a number of good competitive years in front of her.
The fact that she clocked her season’s best of 12.13sec at the Singapore Athletics Association’s Progressive Meet in March this year is not just an indication of her consistency but also a promising sign that she could soon become the first Singapore woman to break the 12sec barrier.
As such, even though she will be out of her league in Beijing, going to the Olympics will not only be a great boost to Amanda’s confidence but also give her much-needed competitive exposure, and perhaps even the push to set a new national record.
After all, the young woman has already shown that she thrives in competition. In fact, Amanda’s current 100m national record of 12.12sec was recorded at the 2007 SEA Games.
Her performance in the heats also made her the first Singapore woman to qualify for the 100m final since Eng Chiew Guay in 1973 ( Here’s a history lesson for all young athletes: Chiew Guay won the gold, by the way ).
If Amanda can break the 12-sec barrier, it could well make her a dark horse contender for a medal at next year’s SEA Games in Laos ( the bronze medal time at the 2007 Games was 11.77sec).
That should be enough reason for the SAA to axe Zhang for Amanda. Unfortunately, such a move will probably be the final nail in the coffin for Zhang’s throwing career and spell the end of her relationship with the SAA and Singapore. But, to be honest, all will be forgotten if Amanda can set a new national mark at the Olympics.
Bottom line: The decision is a no-brainer.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan