A reader, Just Another Critic, has asked about my thoughts about schoolboy sprinter’s omission from the Youth Olympic Games. He was referring to this report which appeared in yesterday’s edition of TODAY:
Shahrir out of Youth Olympics (TODAY, 4 May 2010)
It’s no-go for Singapore’s fastest schoolboy after SAA turn down appeal
By Low Lin Fhoong
SINGAPORE – Last July, Shahrir Mohd Anuar matched strides with the continent’s best teenagers, finishing third in the inaugural Asian Youth Games 100m Boys’ final, clocking 11.13sec.
The race was won by Japanese tearaway Masaki Nashimoto in 10.82.
Last month, the Raffles Institution (Junior College) pupil took gold in the ‘A’ Boys 100m at the National Inter-School Track and Field Championships. Shahrir clocked 10.90 to become Singapore’s fastest schoolboy.
On those two performances alone, he would have been a shoo-in for the blue riband race at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, which will be held here from Aug 14 to 26.
But the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) left the 17-year-old out of their provisional squad of eight boys and eight girls named in March because his average time (11.29) for four build-up races earlier in the year was just off the pace set by Donovan Chan (11.16).
It means Shahrir, who raised some excitement among local fans with his performance at the Asian Youth Games last year, will miss the Youth Olympics.
“It’s a big waste for me because we are the hosts, and running in front of a home crowd means a lot to me … But I have to respect their decision,” said a disappointed Shahrir.
Shahrir, who had taken time off to prepare for his year-end “O” Level exams, was also coming off an injury and was not anywhere near peak form for the four races.
He had appealed to the SAA to be included in their Youth Olympic provisional squad, who will compete in the Asian Area Qualification event on May 22 and 23 at Bishan Stadium.
But it was rejected last week.
With each country allowed to enter a maximum of two athletes for the individual events at the Asian qualifier, Shahrir was hoping to run with Donovan in the 100m, which will serve as the final trial for the Youth Olympics.
The SAA will select five boys and five girls after the Asian qualifier for the Youth Olympics, which will see around 3,600 athletes aged between 14 to 18 years competing in the 26 Olympic sports.
The SAA’s decision to omit Shahrir from the Asian meet has puzzled his father, Mohd Anuar Yusop.
“I don’t understand how it works … I do not want to take away Donovan’s position as he was rightly selected, but if we can enter two athletes for each event at the Asian qualifier, why not,” he told MediaCorp.
“It’s not like we’re flying the athletes to Indonesia or Thailand. The SAA should allow for flexibility. They’re being too rigid with the rules.”
A philosophical Shahrir is now looking ahead to the Asean Schools Championships, South-east Asia Junior Championships (both in June) and Asian Junior Championships (July).
“I’ll just continue running and trying for a better timing and more consistency this year, and I’m targeting 10.70sec,” he said.
Frankly, I can see how Shahrir’s appeal to be included in the YOG provisional squad never stood a ghost of a chance of succeeding.
If you go by the Singapore Athletic Association’s criteria for consideration for selection, they are firmly within their rights not to grant Shahrir’s appeal (click here for the SAA’s selection criteria for the YOG).
But that doesn’t mean that the SAA got it right in the first place.
For starters, I don’t see the logic behind the choice of the dates that were set for the period of qualification (from 16 Jan 2010 to 14 March 2010) because I don’t understand how the SAA could have not considered including the 51st National Schools Track and Field Championships, which was held in April, as part of the selection criteria.
Under the qualifying criteria for the YOG, athletes had to take part in the SAA’s All-Comers meets in January and February this year, as well as the National Junior Championships in March.
Their results are then averaged and benchmarked against the 10th-placed performances at the last three IAAF World Youth Championships, which are for athletes 17 years or younger.
But here’s my question: why did the SAA take the decision to stop at the National Junior Championships which were held in March, at a time when most of our top juniors are still not at their peaks?
If other countries, for example Ireland, can give their athletes a longer period for qualification, up to 10 May, then why couldn’t the SAA have done the same?
After all, isn’t it the national body’s mission to look for the best Singapore athletes who can end up holding their heads high when they compete at the Youth Olympics despite the gulf in standards with the track and field powerhouses of the world?
If that is the case, then why did the SAA leave out the National Schools Championships as one of the must-compete meets in their selection criteria?
Why am I harping so much on the National Schools Championships? Simple – aren’t all the athletes who are vying for places in the YOG also students?
And when you are a student athlete, what is the meet that will matter most to you?It has to be the National Schools Track and Field Championships.
In Singapore, that is the mother of all track and field competitions for junior athletes, not the All-Comers meets or the National Juniors.
The National Schools Championships is the one event that sees the student athlete out there driven by another equally – or perhaps even more powerful motivation than from personal glory — bringing honour to your school.
And that is a pretty powerful force, I can assure you.
All athletes are primed to be at their peak for the annual meet because there is so much at stake – for the athlete, coach and of course, the school.
Isn’t it any wonder then that so many new championship and schools national records are set every year at the National Schools Championships?
In the past five years, an average of 16-18 championship records were set. This year was no different: according to www.schoolsports.sg, 16 Championship records and six Schools National records were set.
Not only were some of the YOG provisional squad members in record-breaking form, such as Goh Wei Ning (100m hurdles), Zachary Devaraj (800m and 1,500m) and Sean Toh (110m hurdles), so too was discus thrower Chan Zhi Xuan who had, ironically, been axed from the YOG squad prior to the National Schools Championships.
The Cedar Girls School student ended up setting a stunning new Schools National record of 37.94m at the meet, breaking Wan Lay Chi’s mark of 37.25m set in 2004.
And sprinter Shahrir Anuar clocked 10.90sec and 10.95sec in the 100m, the best times set by any schoolboy this season so far.
Now, what does that tell you about the importance of the National Schools Championships to our student athletes?
If the SAA had waited until after the National Schools Championships to decide on its YOG squad for the Asian Area Qualifiers, it could have given itself a wider range of athletes to choose from.
And disputes like that of the controversial selection of Donovan Tan over Shahrir – Singapore’s bronze-medal winner at last year’s Asian Youth Games, mind you — for the 100m could have been avoided.
Even the axing of Zhi Xuan could have possibly been prevented.
Finally, going back to Shahrir’s case, it really does feel as though the young man has been dealt a bad hand through no fault of his own.
He was injured in November, had to spend a whole month recuperating before resuming training in late December.
Yet even with the late start, he still managed to clock those impressive sub-11sec times. Tells you about the boy’s talent, doesn’t it?
Really, this fiasco could have been prevented if the window for qualifying had been lengthened.
At the end of the day, all this just tells me just how out of touch the SAA is with the ground on the meets that matter most to students and coaches.
Clearly, the national body has been operating from an ivory tower.
And clearly, this is why it is even more crucial now that the winds of change must blow through its corridors come June.
Yet, sadly, even that would be too late for talented juniors like Shahrir and Zhi Xuan.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan