New Hui Fen cements brilliance, Joseph Schooling slumps again

Singapore bowler New Hui Fen hugs her coach Helmi Chew after winning gold in the women's masters at the SEA Games. (PHOTO: SNOC/Kong Chong Yew)

SINGAPORE — She announced herself as a up-and-coming talent 10 years ago, when she clinched two bowling golds at the inaugural Asian Youth Games in Singapore.

And after a successful if inconsistent decade as one of the key members of Singapore’s talent-heavy women’s team, New Hui Fen finally cemented her brilliance at the SEA Games, as she won her third gold in this edition in a tense women’s masters final in Manila on Sunday (8 December).

The 27-year-old, who qualified for the step-ladder finals as the top seed, faced Malaysia’s Siti Safiyah Amirah in the final match. Siti had beaten Singapore’s Shayna Ng in the first step-ladder match 234-201 to earn her shot at gold.

Nerves were jangling in the first game, as Siti edged New 259-257 after two tie-breakers to send the match into a second, decisive game.

However, New steadied herself and, with Siti making errors early in the game, held her nerve to clinch the gold medal with a 213-194 win, adding to her golds in the women’s singles and team events.

Singapore bowler New Hui Fen during the women's masters competition at the SEA Games (PHOTO: SNOC/Kong Chong Yew)

“I felt very emotional after the win,” she said after her victory. “My target was to be consistently good for the entire bowling competition, and I think I’ve achieved that with the three golds. My worst showing was fourth in the mixed doubles, so I’m happy with my performance.”

The Singapore bowling team ended their SEA Games campaign with three golds, one silver and four bronzes, and Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua praised the bowlers, especially New, for a superb outing.

“I’m proud of how Hui Fen managed to pull through in the final, It was heart-stopping, but she delivered. It’s affirmation of her talents,” she said. “I’m also immensely proud of the bowling team. It’s a super strong field, and the lanes were challenging, but they managed to do themselves proud.”

Schooling loses to Chua in 100m free

In Clark City, Joseph Schooling’s lacklustre campaign suffered another blow, when he failed in his bid for a hat-trick of men’s 100m freestyle wins.

Just like in the 50m butterfly race in which he lost to compatriot Teong Tzen Wei on Thursday, it was another Singaporean who edged the Olympic champion to second place.

Darren Chua, 19, had won the 200m freestyle gold on Saturday, and continued his superb debut Games outing with a 49.59sec swim to take the 100m freestyle title.

Singapore swimmer Darren Chua celebrates winning the SEA Games gold in the men's 100m freestyle over Joseph Schooling. (PHOTO: SNOC/Andy Chua)

Schooling had to settle for silver with 49.64sec, unable to follow up on his 2015 and 2017 victories. Vietnam’s Hoang Quy Phuoc was third with 50.08sec.

As social media swirled with comments that the 24-year-old looked bulkier than he was when he won gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Schooling admitted that he has yet to reach an optimal weight where he can generate enough power for his strokes yet maintain his Olympic gold-winning speed.

“During the world championships, I got my weight down to about 78, 79kg, but I had not enough power,” he told reporters after his swim. “I tried to get a couple of kilos back, so this SEA Games was a test of how I could perform with this additional weight. But I’ll fix this with my coaching team, that’s for sure.”

There were three more golds for Singapore at the swimming pool on Sunday. Lionel Khoo kicked things off with a 28.15sec effort in the men’s 50m breaststroke final to clinch gold ahead of the Philippines James Deiparine (28.32sec) and Indonesia’s Gagarin Nathaniel (28.52sec).