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SEA Games 2023: Water polo triumph the highlight of Singapore's six-gold haul

Men's team regain the gold they shockingly lost in 2019, amid stirring wins in table tennis, wrestling, floorball and fencing

The gold-winning Singapore men's water polo team posing in front of the national flag and their supporters at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: SNOC)
The gold-winning Singapore men's water polo team posing in front of the national flag and their supporters at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: SNOC)

SINGAPORE — For four years, the Singapore national men's water polo team lived and breathed for the moment when they could regain the SEA Games gold they relinquished after a 54-year iron grip in 2019.

On Tuesday (16 May), they finally succeeded in their quest, as they confirmed that the gold medal is coming back to the city-state with a 22-14 win over hosts Cambodia at the National Olympic Stadium Swimming Centre in Phnom Penh.

It was an emotional moment for the team, who had trained hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic under Japanese coach Kan Aoyagi for a chance to prove that the shock 2019 result was a mere aberration to their regional dominance. Former stalwarts such as Paul Tan, Loh Zhi Zhi and Yip Yang even returned to the fold to lend their veteran experience to guide the younger teammates.

And it all paid off as Singapore won all five of their matches in Phnom Penh, starting with victories over Thailand (12-7) and Malaysia (14-1).

The key victory was against Indonesia, whom they shockingly lost to in 2019; this time around, they powered past the defending champions 12-5, before further victories over Philippines (10-4) and Cambodia rounded off a brilliant campaign.

Singapore paddlers Izaac Quek and Zeng Jian clinched the men's and women's singles golds at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTOS: SNOC/Andy Chua/Eng Chin An)
Singapore paddlers Izaac Quek and Zeng Jian clinched the men's and women's singles golds at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTOS: SNOC/Andy Chua/Eng Chin An)

Izaac Quek, Zeng Jian snare both singles golds

The water polo gold was one of five gold medals won by Singapore athletes on the penultimate day of the SEA Games. In table tennis, the Singapore paddlers also rounded off a successful campaign by snaring both singles golds at the Morodok Techo Table Tennis Hall.

After meeting their modest pre-Games target of two gold medals in winning the men's doubles and team golds, there was less pressure on the singles finalists Izaac Quek and Zeng Jian to come out victorious. Nonetheless, the duo still emerged triumphant for their first singles golds at the Games.

Zeng, 26, edged out Thailand's Suthasini Sawettabut in a seven-set thrilled in the women's final.

The Singaporean had made the final after defeating another Thai player, defending champion Paranang Orawan, 11-7, 6-11, 12-10, 11-9, 15-13 in the semi-finals earlier on Tuesday.

Against the 19-year-old Suthasini, Zeng raced to a 3-0 lead after taking the first three sets 11-8, 11-8 and 11-9. However, the Thai roared back to take the next three sets 11-3, 11-9 and 11-7.

In the decisive seventh set, the players were tied at 8-8 before Zeng earned a favourable review that overturned an out call, before finally clinching the match 11-9. This is her first SEA Games gold after four previous losing finals.

It was far more smooth-sailing for 16-year-old Quek, who belied his youthful age by thrashing Vietnam's Nguyen Anh Tu in straight sets 11-3, 11-6, 11-8, 11-7 for his third gold of the SEA Games.

Singapore wrestler Timothy Loh celebrates winning gold in the men's freestyle 125kg division at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: SNOC/Lim Weixiang)
Singapore wrestler Timothy Loh celebrates winning gold in the men's freestyle 125kg division at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: SNOC/Lim Weixiang)

First-ever wrestling gold for Singapore, won by Timothy Loh

While the Singapore men's water polo team were trying to return to gold-winning ways, Timothy Loh has been trying to land gold in grappling sports for the past four SEA Games editions.

The 31-year-old finally succeeded on his fifth try, winning the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling title after defeating Cambodia's Dorn Sao (4-0 by fall) and Laos' Lerdxai Khamtam (11-0) at the Chroy Changvar Covention Center. This is also Singapore's first-ever gold in wrestling.

Upon winning the gold, Loh let out a roar of delight as he celebrated by running around the arena with the Singapore flag. It was just reward after four previous bronze-medal showings in different sports - two in judo (2013 and 2015), one in sambo (2019) and one in Greco-Roman wrestling (2022).

Before Loh's gold, Singapore had won one silver and five bronzes in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Singapore women's floorball players celebrate scoring against Thailand in the gold-medal match at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: Sport Singapore/Alfie Lee)
Singapore women's floorball players celebrate scoring against Thailand in the gold-medal match at the 2023 SEA Games. (PHOTO: Sport Singapore/Alfie Lee)

Gold for women's floorball team after beating Thailand

The fifth gold medal came from women's floorball, as Singapore defeated Thailand 4-2 in the final of the five-nation competition. This is their third gold in as many editions.

The Singaporeans had finished the group stage in second place with three wins and a defeat by the Thais, who topped the group with four wins.

However in the final, Singapore seized control early, racing to a 3-0 lead through Michelle Lok (ninth minute), Ong Swee Ling (15th) and Shannon Yeo (25th) before the Thais could respond. Yun Shawn Yee added a fourth goal in the final quarter to seal the gold-medal win.

The Singapore national anthem was also played at the Chroy Changvar Convention Centre Hall B, as the women's epee team clinched the seventh fencing gold for Singapore.

The team consisting of Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman, Rebecca Ong, Filzah Hidayah and individual champion Elle Koh defeated the Philippines 45-37 in the final to earn the gold, making it the most successful outing by Singapore fencers at the SEA Games.

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