Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ironman Hunk SC5's Reply to JW's Article!

JW shapestretch VS stevenf_small
Hi Jeanette,

How's your preparation for Ironman Korea?

Anyway, I read your article "Long-distance runners wanted" dated 5th August 2006 in The Straits Times and I wish to voice my views about some of the points raised. As a top athlete yourself, especially in the field of triathlon, you would agree that it takes years to "mould and train" a good runner or athlete. You also quoted Mr Ghana Segaran on "...the need for a five-year plan at least to develop an athlete to his full potential". As a running enthusiast myself, when I saw Mr Loh Lin Kok's statement that "...there is a dearth of runners in the Republic capable of excelling in the ...longer distances", I feel we should ask ourselves "Why?".

The Singapore Athletic Association (SAA), in particular, should ask itself : Why ? It's certainly not for any lack of interest - or even talent - altogether. There are a number of established running clubs in Singapore eg MR25, Flash, Swifts, Red Hawk, just to name a few, as well as unofficial running groups. These are pure running clubs filled with running enthusiasts. Every year, the Singapore Marathon and the Sheares Bridge Army Half Marathon attract thousands of participants. Of course, the vast majority are recreational runners and joggers. But surely, these annual events, as well as the races organised by the running clubs, and various school-level running competitions, offer up a good pool of talents with the potential to represent the country.
The real issue is one of systematically spotting the potential and grooming the talents.

Is SAA prepared to "invest" five years or more to develop potential running talents and groom them into medal-hopefuls ? Or will we also need to rely on "foreign talent" imported as immediate medal prospects to bring us glory in distance running ?

As Mr Loh noted in your article, long distance training "involves a lot of pain" and is "also very time-consuming". As in any other sport, it takes a lot of commitment, dedication, passion and personal motivation to excel at a competitive level in running. While middle-distance track runners hit their prime in their late-teens or early-20s, marathoners typically peak later, usually well into their 30s. These are the periods when most Singaporeans grapple with their future - tertiary studies or career or family.

How far will the SAA go to help national-level student athletes balance their studies and hard training ? What support does it offer marathoners who maintain a full-time job while training - virtually full-time year-round - for competition ? Does it help look after their welfare ? How far does it support athletes' training needs - such as overseas stints - when they are gearing up for top-level competition ? SAA may cite its various support and funding schemes for national athletes. But why have several athletes - James Wong, UK Shyam, Zhang Guirong, Du Xuanhui, etc - opted out of SAA's support to train on their own ?

As your article notes, Singapore had some highly competitive runners such as Yvonne Danson and Toh So Liang in the 1990s. The women's distance running scene remains highly promising. And even among the male marathoners, there are now probably still a small number who, if they step up their training a few notches, could compete well at regional level. But why do some of these good runners seem to "disappear" from the scene after a while ? These are issues worth examining.

I feel that the article perhaps makes too much of coaching too. No doubt, behind the success of many a great athlete is a great coach. But Singapore lacks good, properly-qualified coaches as much as it lacks top-notch runners. By the way, Sydney Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi parted ways with her longtime coach - and went on to win the 2005 Tokyo Marathon in a solid comeback last November, as a self-coached runner.

And, on the point that nowadays, "athletes demand sponsors, money and apparel" - I guess there is another view to this. Training gear - from shoes, apparels, nutrition supplements, etc - don't come cheap. When you train hard every hard, you obviously wear out more shoes and gear than the average jogger. It could be quite a financial drain on the athlete and his family. In any case, many of the sports gear companies are happy to have Singapore's top athletes endorse their brands at track meets and races.

Well, the Singapore squad for last December's SEA Games was said to be "pathetic" because we had only one female marathoner. And now the new national distance coach is confident of sending "five or six" representatives to the next SEA Games. One has to wonder how five or six SEA Games-level distance runners can emerge in a year or so, if they apparently don't exist at the moment, and when we all agree that it takes at least five or six years to groom someone with potential.Good luck to SAA. As a running enthusiast, I will certainly want to see Singapore excel in distance running - and have our running talents properly nurtured, and not be snuffed out prematurely.

Your article was a good one, but I feel that we cannot just "listen" to voices from only one side of the fence. There is always voices from the other side that many choose to neglect and it is of prime importance to listen to the athletes' grievences, as much as just from the coaches and SAA.

Anyway, I did Ironman Korea last year. I strongly believe you will have fun at the race.

Steven Chan


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