They failed to land a single gold medal in August’s Asian Games, but Singapore’s silat exponents made amends on Sunday (16 December) when they swept to a total of seven golds at the World Pencak Silat Championships held at the Singapore Sports Hub’s OCBC Arena.
Together with six silvers and seven bronzes, it represented by far their best medal harvest at the prestigious event in the three editions which Singapore hosted (1988 and 2004 were the previous occasions). In the 2004 World Championships, the Republic had clinched four golds, their previous-best gold medal haul.
And so there were plenty of smiles among the Singapore athletes, particularly those who won their maiden golds at the event, such as Nurul Suhaila Mohd Saiful in the women’s Class D (60-65kg) category.
The 23-year-old had came close to winning her division in the past two world championships, but fell to Indonesia’s Selly Andriani each time, in the 2015 final and the 2016 semi-finals. This time, she finally defeated her nemesis 4-1 in the semi-finals, and ran out a convincing 5-0 winner against Thailand’s Janejira Wankrue to clinch the gold.
“This gold means the world to me, and I hope this is the start to greater things,” she said. “The losses I faced throughout the past few years actually pushed me to my limit. I struggled a lot, but I also trained really hard.
“I trusted my preparations this time, and I trusted the coaches’ advice. They believed in me, so I believed in myself more this time.”
Another first-time winner was Sheik Ferdous Sheik Alau’ddin, who built on his silver-medal showing at the Asian Games to emerge triumphant in the Class I (85-90kg) division, beating Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Tri 5-0 in the gold-medal match.
“It’s something which I’ve working very long and hard for, and finally it is here,” the 22-year-old said. “There had been a lot of setbacks, but I told myself to continue to work hard, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”
Gold rush started early in championships
The gold rush for Singapore actually started on Thursday, the opening day of the world championships, when the silat athletes clinched three golds through Muhammad Iqbal Abdul Rahman (men’s artistic singles), Nurzuhairah Yazid (women’s artistic single) and the women’s artistic doubles pair of Nur Azlyana Ismail and Nurhanishah Shahrudin. The Republic also won two silvers and a bronze on Thursday.
Sheik Ferdous’ brother Sheik Farhan, who clinched a widely-expected third straight gold in the men’s Class J (90-95kg) division, believes that the earlier gold medals served as inspiration for the rest of the Singapore team to push on for more glory at the OCBC Arena.
Said Farhan, who turned 21 on Sunday, “When I won my first gold in 2015, I was the only one and it wasn’t as fun as this time around. It was great to see my teammates’ happy faces when they won their gold medals. It means so much more, knowing that my gold was among the many medals won by the whole team.
“Today, it was a matter of matching my opponent’s intensity, and I think I beat him at his own game by being aggressive throughout the three rounds of the final.”
While Farhan’s aggression was key, it was the other way around for 17-year-old Muhammad Hazim Mohd Yusli, who was taking part in his first World Championships. Nerves were troubling the youngster as he faced Malaysia’s Mohd Faizul Nasir in the men’s Class B (50-55kg) final.
“The key was to stay calm,” he said of his 4-1 win. “My coaches told me to cut down my carelessness and I would win. I started well but near the end of the fight, I got careless and made some silly mistakes but fortunately I hung on for the gold.”
Short time to organise
Around 300 athletes from 40 countries – even non-traditional ones such as the United States, China and the Netherlands – took part at the World Championships, which the Singapore Silat Federation had only five months to organise.
Indonesia was originally slated to host the competition but withdrew as Prabowo Subianto, the chairman of the Indonesian Pencak Silat Association, will be contesting once again in the country’s presidential election in April next year.
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