Largest S’pore con­tin­gent for Asean Para Games tar­gets record medal haul

Today - - SINGAPORE | SPORTS - TEo tENG KIAt tengkiat.teo@me­di­a­

SIN­GA­PORE — Two months have passed since Suhairi Suhani was in­formed that he would be Team Sin­ga­pore’s flag-bearer for the 9th Asean Para Games (APG), but his face still lights up when asked about it.

The 20-year-old re­mem­bers, clear as day, the call in his ho­tel room in Lon­don, where he was par­tic­i­pat­ing at the World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships, his sur­prise there­after, and his coach’s con­grat­u­la­tions.

“I am so ex­cited, as this Sun­day will be the first time I’m hold­ing the Sin­ga­pore flag and lead­ing the con­tin­gent be­hind me,” he told TO­DAY yes­ter­day morn­ing at Changi Air­port, his voice bub­bling with en­thu­si­asm.

“It’s won­der­ful to be in front (of my fel­low ath­letes) and to hold my na­tion’s flag — I’m so grate­ful for it.”

The sprinter and long jumper will be part of his­tory in Kuala Lumpur, as Sin­ga­pore will be send­ing a record away con­tin­gent of 90 ath­letes — in­clud­ing 21 debu­tants — to com­pete in 11 of the 16 sports. This is al­most dou­ble the pre­vi­ous largest num­ber of 57 ath­letes at the 2008 APG in Thai­land.

The in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion is heart­en­ing for Sin­ga­pore Na­tional Par­a­lympic Coun­cil chair­man Kevin Wong, who be­lieves it is the “fruits of the legacy” of the 2015 APG on home soil, where 151 ath­letes took part and won a record 24 golds, 17 sil­vers and 22 bronzes.

“It’s en­cour­ag­ing … be­cause of the Games that more in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties are com­ing for­ward to par­tic­i­pate in sports,” he told TO­DAY on the side­lines of the send-off for the Sin­ga­pore con­tin­gent, which was done in two batches — at 7.35am and 10.05am.

“All th­ese ath­letes have come through a vig­or­ous se­lec­tion pol­icy, so they ac­tu­ally have been com­ing into their sports and at­tain­ing the re­quired skill level to com­pete, so I’m quite ex­cited that there will be more ath­letes par­tic­i­pat­ing across more sports and in greater depth, which means more events.”

Swim­mer Theresa Goh, who, re­mark­ably, has been to all eight pre­vi­ous edi­tions of the Games, is glad to be in­volved with such a big con­tin­gent, which also in­cludes 84 of­fi­cials.

“We al­ways want to give as many op­por­tu­ni­ties as we can to younger ath­letes to do their best and I think this is a good one,” the 27-time APG gold medal­list told TO­DAY.

“It’s def­i­nitely not al­ways about the medals and it’s the first Games for a lot of them ... this will be a step­ping stone Cul­ture, Com­mu­nity and Youth Min­is­ter Grace Fu see­ing off Sin­ga­pore’s para ath­let­ics team at the air­port at 7.30am yes­ter­day. Sin­ga­pore is send­ing a record con­tin­gent of 90 ath­letes to com­pete in 11 of the 16 sports in Kuala Lumpur. and hope­fully they’ll get the sup­port they need and we’ll con­tinue to send as many, or more, to the next few games.”

Wong is op­ti­mistic that the Sin­ga­pore con­tin­gent will bet­ter their pre­vi­ous best away haul of 16 golds, 10 sil­vers and 11 bronzes from the first APG in 2001 and is look­ing for­ward es­pe­cially to see how the debu­tants fare.

“I think we will do bet­ter,” he said. “But, mostly, I’m fo­cus­ing on the debu­tant sports like cy­cling ... If they medal, it’ll be a real in­spi­ra­tion to peo­ple that if you come for­ward and train hard, there’s a chance for you to do well.

“I think that will re­ally show the po­ten­tial and the depth of our ath­letes and, most im­por­tantly, our train­ing pro­grammes.”

Chef de mis­sion Shirley Low hopes to see ev­ery ath­lete do their best and seize their chance to shine on an in­ter­na­tional plat­form, while help­ing to raise more aware­ness of para sport.

“It goes be­yond the medal haul and I think, for many of them, they hope to bet­ter their per­sonal bests,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is also (about im­prov­ing) the spirit and ca­ma­raderie among ev­ery­one in this team.”

Cul­ture, Com­mu­nity and Youth Min­is­ter Grace Fu, who min­gled with the first batch of ath­letes around 7.30am, as­sured them that they had the sup­port of all Sin­ga­pore­ans. “Do your very best, don’t give up and show what you are made of, the steel in you, so that we can all be very, very proud of you out there,” she ral­lied.

“We are all there to sup­port and cheer you on, we’ll be very ex­cited for you, we want you to be en­joy­ing the best ex­pe­ri­ence of your life … so take good care of your­self, be safe and look out for one an­other, and be the best am­bas­sador for Sin­ga­pore.”

The 9th Asean Para Games will be held from Sept 17 to 23.

It goes be­yond the medal haul and I think, for many of them, they hope to bet­ter their per­sonal bests. At the end of the day, this is also (about im­prov­ing) the spirit and ca­ma­raderie among ev­ery­one in this team. Chef de mis­sion Shirley Low

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