Singapore sprinters training in South Africa‏

April 1, 2015 in In the Press by Singapore Canoe Federation

canoe kayak sprint singapore training 2015 sportscene icf

Published Apr 01, 2015 By Brad Morgan

It is a big year for the Singapore canoeing team. The country is set to host the biennual South East Asian (SEA) Games for the first time since 1993 in the 50th year of the city state’s existence. To help them prepare for the challenge ahead, the team, under its long-time Hungarian coach Ballazs Babella, has travelled to South Africa for training at Natal Canoe Club (NCC) in Pietermaritzburg and Port Edward on the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

With NCC set to host the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships, it is also an opportunity for the Singapore paddlers to scout out the venue.

“Partly yes,” that was a reason for the trip, said Team Manager Lyuine Lee, “and also partly because we know that the Hungarian and Slovakian teams will be here, and also we wanted a chance to train with the South African athletes.”

Team member Stephanie Chen commented: “Our team is pretty small, so most of us do the 200 and 500 metres. I usually have been doing a lot of team boat racing in K2s and K4s. I am usually in front, because I can’t follow,” she laughed. “Zero following skills! That is what I have been doing for the past three or four years.

“We have trained a few sessions with the South Africans. Their programme and our programme have the same objectives, so we have joined them for training. Even when we do team boats, we can join them because we are not so far behind.”

“The guys will be joining the South Africans for a week for almost all of their programmes. The girls are too slow to keep up with the girls here.”

“We have paddled with [Olympic and World Championships bronze medallist] Bridgitte Hartley. She’s friendly, she always has a smile on her face.”

“I have been to South Africa many times before for training camps with the Hungarian team, so I started to talk to [South African and NCC sprint coach] Craig Mustard about it, whether or not we could come here and train with the team here because South Africa has very good athletes, so it is a very good opportunity for us to do this,” coach Ballazs Babella said.

“We share ideas, but they are actually quite similar, so I can let my guys do the programme with him because I can trust him. I have seen the programme and how he coaches, and it is good for my athletes.”

In his time in charge, Babella has seen a big improvement in the sport in Singapore. “Canoeing is growing in Singapore,” he explained. “I have been there for over six-and-a-half years. When I went there the level of competition and athletes was very low. There were a lot of participants at that time, but they were doing it because it was something that they had to do at school. After school, when they finished junior college and attended university some of them came back, just because of the fun of it. It was not a high performance thing at that time. Even though they had coaches from overseas, somehow they couldn’t stay and develop anything before me.

“Luckily, I have managed to do something and I can say that we are still improving. That is the most important thing. We started from a very low level. Now we are getting better and better, but we are still far from the top.

“The South East Asian Games will be held in Singapore this year. The first time I was in charge was in the 2011 Games, where the team already won some gold medals. Before that, a medal was already a huge achievement. The best they had done before I took charge was two bronze medals. Now we are winning gold medals.”

“It is an exciting time for canoeing in Singapore right now,” he added. “Luckily it is not only the Federation that is realising that we are developing. It is the Singapore Olympic Committee and the Singapore Sport Institute, who are part of it and they are helping us as much as they can to develop further.”

One of the challenges in Singapore is that it is a small country and that means having to share facilities. “We don’t have exclusive facilities in Singapore for canoeing. We still share the water area with Dragon Boats and rowing. There are many stakeholders involved, who all have a say, and also the area where we train, the Marina Reservoir, has tours, river cruises, river taxis,” Team Manager Lee said.

Chen, whose older sister is also a member of the national team, said doing well in the SEA Games is vitally important. “It’s home ground, so we hope to do very well. Our results determine how much support we get from the government. In Singapore you need to get results before you get support because sport is not that big of a thing. They are trying to make it bigger, which is why there is more support coming in. When we first started and my coach first came in, there wasn’t that much support. When we started to produce results at the regional games then we started to get more support from the government, and built up from there.”

Babella echoed the importance of producing results, saying: “Hopefully we will have another camp at NCC before the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships. I am planning for next year already. I have already spoken to Craig about it, so we might come back here next year. It depends on our results and our budget. If we do well this year, we will have the budget to spend on this. We have to convince Sports Singapore.”

Discussing his approach to improving the sport in the Asian hub, he said: It is a common mistake in many countries that people believe that supporting the high performance team is the key. You have to start from the bottom up. That’s a big challenge for me, for us to convince the federation to support the junior programme, because without that this team develops and reaches a certain standard. But what after that? We drop back to the same level because there are no juniors at that level that can join us and that can develop further. We are struggling with this. Hopefully with the support that we have, and hopefully with the results that will come it will be okay. I really believe we have to do this, and that it will be done.”

Singapore also receives support from the International Canoe Federation (ICF), Lee added: “In terms of the ICF support, internationally, like for World Champs, they paid for the Para-canoe athletes to go there. They paid for the training camps. They have a talent identification programme, and they will usually support one or two people to travel to be part of these talent identification camps.”

The Singapore Team leaves Pietermaritzburg in the next few days on their way to Gauteng to participate in the South African Sprint Championships at Roodeplaat Dam from the 2 to 4 April.

 

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