Sailing team clinch Singapore's second-ever medal at World University Games

The bronze-winning Singapore sailing team at the 2019 World University Games: (from left) Matthew Scott Lau, Tan Jen-E, Cheryl Teo and Jillian Lee. (PHOTO: Singapore University Sports Council)

SINGAPORE — They barely had time to train together as a team, and also had to adapt to a new class of keelboat which they had never sailed in before.

Despite those difficulties, Singapore’s Jillian Lee, Cheryl Teo, Tan Jen-E and Matthew Scott Lau still managed to clinched a bronze medal in the mixed team keelboat event at the biennial World University Games in Naples, Italy, earlier this month.

Their bronze win was just the second time in which Singapore had clinched a medal at the Games, which is the largest global multi-sport event apart from the Olympics, with over 6,000 tertiary-institution athletes from 118 nations taking part.

The only other time a Singaporean athlete had clinched a medal at the Games was in 2011, when sailor Victoria Chan won a silver medal in the laser radial class.

Training difficulties, unfamiliar boat class

Winning a medal, though, was far from the four sailors’ minds when they were selected as one of two teams to represent the Republic, after trials by the Singapore Sailing Federation in March.

“We had only one or two training sessions as a full team, due to all of our different commitments outside sailing,” said Lau, 19, who is studying medicine at National University of Singapore.

“But we knew everyone for a long time. All of us are in the sport for many years, so we knew each of our own capabilities. There wasn’t any pressure on us winning any medal, so while we came into the Games excited, we just wanted to take things a step at a time, play to our strengths and try to make the best out of it.”

The bronze-winning Singapore sailing team in action at the 2019 World University Games. (PHOTO: International University Sports Federation)

Their strengths and experience were needed right at the start of the competition, as they had to adapt quickly to an unfamiliar RS21 keelboat class, which had subtle differences to the SB20 keelboats they were training in back in Singapore.

“We had only a two-hour training session to get used to the boat, before the actual competition began,” said Teo, 19, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic business and social enterprise student.

“Also, we had to share our boats with other competitors, so the technical committee did not allow us to make any modifications. In a way, it levelled the playing field, and everyone had to rely on just experience and tactics during the races.”

Mental focus to recover from poor opening race

After the opening round of 16 races, the quartet were placed third among the eight qualifiers for the final round of four races on 12 July.

Despite a sixth-placed finish in their opening final-round race, they show creditable mental focus to recover and finish third, third and second in the following races. That gave the quartet 17 points, enough for a bronze-medal placing, behind gold-medal winners Finland (seven points) and second-placed Austria (14 points).

“Our coach gave us a national flag to go to the podium, and we felt a lot of pride in winning a rare medal for Singapore,” Lau said.

Lee, the 23-year-old skipper of the team, added, “Because the World University Games committee changes sports and events with every edition, we’re not sure if we will have the chance to compete together again at the Games. So this medal is quite precious to us.”

The bronze-winning Singapore sailing team with their fellow team-mates at the World University Games. (PHOTO: Singapore University Sports Council)

Future plans for team members

All of them hope that they can compete as a team again in next year’s sailing World University Championships. Some also harbour hopes of making the national sailing squad for upcoming events like the SEA Games in December.

For Teo, she has had to deal with ending her push for 2020 Olympic qualification in the women’s 470 class earlier this year, despite taking a year off school to chase her dream.

Her partner for the double-handed dinghy class, Yukie Yokoyama, had suffered a near-death sailing incident during a training camp in 2018, and decided to stop the duo’s Olympic qualifying campaign to deal with her post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nonetheless, the disappointment in missing out on next year’s Tokyo Games has not doused Teo’s ambition to be considered for subsequent editions.

“It’s still early, so I haven’t actually settled on a plan for the 2024 Olympics yet, and I’m trying to see what the sailing federation has in line with my own plans,” the 2017 SEA Games gold-medallist said.

“But if there is a chance for 2024, I definitely want to try and go for it.”

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