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AG2018: Breakthrough medal for Mervyn as kayakers hit new highs in Palembang

01 September 2018
Philip Goh

Seven hundredths of a second. That was how close Stephenie Chen came to becoming to first Singaporean to win an Asian Games canoe/kayak medal. It’s no wonder the 26-year-old was teary-eyed following her K1-200m race when she came fourth, just milliseconds behind Japan’s Yuka Ono.

 

teamsg asian games kayak canoe stephenie chen
Stephenie Chen came within a hair's breadth of winning a medal in the women's K1 200m.

 

The final day of competition at the Jakabaring Sports City Regatta Course saw six finals in all, with Singapore represented in five.

 

With her tears barely dry, Stephenie was soon by the water, along with the rest of the Singapore canoe/kayak team and support staff, cheering team-mate Mervyn Toh in the men’s K1 200m race.

 

Along with Stephenie, 26-year-old Mervyn was seen as Singapore best chance to score a medal in this elite competition, and he duly delivered.

 

Powering to the front at the halfway point, the Team Singapore paddler then held on for dear life as the chasers closed in, and the finish line seemingly further with every flagging stroke.

 

teamsg asian games kayak canoe mervyn toh

Mervyn Toh's bronze in the men's K1 200m is Singapore's first-ever Asian Games medal for the sport.  

 

In the end, Mervyn just about kept it together to be the third to sound the finish horn, a somewhat comfortable half-a-second ahead of the paddler from Thailand in fourth position. What had seemed for the longest time an impossible dream for the Singapore canoe/kayak team has been realised –

 medal at the Asian Games.

 

For those who have followed the steady rise of the Singapore paddling team, under the guidance of long-standing Hungarian coach Balazs Babella, this achievement has been a long time coming.

 

Since the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the nucleus of the team has stayed relatively intact. As an example, Geraldine Lee, who was once Singapore’s leading woman kayaker and Olympian at the 2012 London Games, remains in the team and was part of the K4 500m crew – along with Stephenie, Sarah Chen and Soh Sze Ying – that finished a creditable fifth in their final today (1 Sep).

 

On Thursday (30 Aug), 2010 Youth Olympian Brandon Ooi teamed up with veteran Lucas Teo to finish fourth in the men’s K2 1,000m event, an all-time high finish at the Asian Games. While only one athlete managed to medal, there were enough best performances in other events to indicate Team Singapore paddlers are closing in on their better-resourced rivals within Asia.

 

teamsg asian games kayak canoe lucas teo brandon ooi
Lucas Teo and Brandon Ooi came fourth in the men's K2 1,000m, an all-time high.

 

“This is my third Asian Games and we’ve made strides,” said Stephenie. “From 2010 when we barely qualified to now challenging for medals, there has been good progression. Still a long way to go but we’re on the right track.

 

“Mervyn’s bronze is a milestone for the team and I’m really happy for him.”

 

Having nearly given up the sport after junior college, Mervyn was relieved not to have walked away.

 

“I’ve been working for this since the last Asian Games and I’m really happy with the result,” he said. “The conditions favoured me today and I knew I had to stay close to the two leading contenders and I should be among the medals, and I’m glad that worked out.”

 

teamsg asian games 2018 canoe kayak mervyn toh
Mervyn Toh came in half-a-second ahead of the Thai kayaker, who was in fourth position.

 

As for Babella, who’s into his 10th year as national head coach with the Singapore Canoe Federation, this is a breakthrough that could just be a catalyst for the sport in Singapore.

“I’ve not seen this quality of opposition at a meet of this level, so maybe we will look back four years from now and say this was the result that gave the push for even better results in the coming years.”

 

“Mervyn’s medal is everything to us. It’s the whole team’s medal as they all trained together and supported each other. We also wanted to give something back for all the support given to us by the Singapore Sports Institute and SportSG.

 

“We can’t thank them enough for their support because with their expertise, we can be a powerhouse in this sport for the future.”

 

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Tags: Major Games

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