SINGAPORE: At the 2015 SEA Games, Singapore's 4x100m relay team raced to their fourth consecutive silver, setting a national record of 39.24 seconds in front of a home crowd.
This month, a new squad with four debutants will take to the track for the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
As a group that only got together under new technical director Volker Herrmann last December, not much is expected of the new batch, which clocked a personal best of 40.22 seconds at the Asian Track and Field Championships in India last month.
Veteran sprinter Calvin Kang is the only remaining member of the 2015 squad. His current team-mates include Khairyll Amri, Hariz Darajit, Ariff Januri and Timothee Yap – who collectively have an average age of 22.
Lim Yao Peng, 28, makes up the final member of the squad bound for Kuala Lumpur. He was a reserve member in 2011.
“Our aim is to first break the 40-second mark and I’m pretty sure by next year we’d be able to break this record,” said Herrmann, who is coaching the current squad. “Then there’s the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2018, and it’s our goal to come a bit closer to this national record during that period.”
“Hopefully … in the long-term we'd then be able to run a sub-39 second race,” added the German.
Said 27-year-old Kang, who is competing in his swansong competition in KL: “The quartet that rewrote the national record in 2015 trained for about seven years together. (They) also took part in many training sessions and raced in at least 20 to 30 competitions.”
He added: “This current team has only raced about five times, and only in the past few months have we raced more overseas.
“We’re probably at the first stage with this team, which is to get to know one another. The SEA Games is more as a stepping stone, but I would say the progression would only come when the team competes in more races.”
PLAYING TO THEIR STRENGTHS
Kang’s team-mate Timothee Yap – a wildcard entry for the 100 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics – explained where each runner fits in the current set-up. “Hariz is first as he’s a very good starter, while Calvin is second as he’s our fastest runner, who will run the most in his leg of the race,” he said.
“Third is either Khairyll or Ariff as they’re pretty good on the curve, and I’m usually the last runner,” added Yap, whose personal best in the century sprint stands at 10.62 seconds.
As the anchor leg sprinter, Yap acknowledged his responsibility in finishing strong for the team. “Being the last runner (for the team) means that I’ve got to try my best to hold my position and catch up with those who are in front of me.”
He added: “The last runner doesn’t really mean I’m the fastest, it just suits my running style the best.”
Having raced alongside track legend Usain Bolt in the Olympics, Yap conceded that the team still has much to learn. “I definitely learnt a lot in Rio. I can tell you that what I saw then, and what we’re doing now is not of the same standard. We’re definitely not at that world-class level yet,” he observed.
“Hopefully we’ll someday get there but for this SEA Games, we’re the dark horse as nobody is expecting us to do well,” said Yap. “We can only try our best and hopefully we can qualify for the Asian or Commonwealth Games.”
FACING ESTABLISHED OPPONENTS
A podium finish in the 2017 SEA Games will be a tough ask according to relay runner Khairyll who is well aware of how the other ASEAN nations fare in the current regional scene. “I think hosts Malaysia are especially strong this year and Thailand will always be the sprint kings of Southeast Asia. I believe it’ll boil down to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia,” said the 24-year-old.
“Anything can happen in a race, though. Another team might even slip up … so we’ll just have to do our best and work hard until then,” he added. “For us, we’d have to focus on own abilities, taper our training accordingly, keep practicing our baton passing and we’ll see how it goes on race day.”
Despite their relative inexperience, Herrmann believes the current team does have promise. “I feel that (our) potential is quite high. In fact, some of these athletes only started structured training about a year ago,” he said.
“They’re still in the process of getting used to the volume of training. Usually you’ll need a couple of years to be able to recover from the load, and only then do you adjust the intensity,” he said.
“Eventually, I’m pretty sure all of the younger runners will be able to improve their times by at least a tenth of a second as they’ve all got quite high potential to improve.”
He insists that it would be unfair to compare the current batch with their regional peers, most of whom are experienced competitors at SEA Games level. “As for the other countries, they have a benefit of having a big pool of strong individual runners,” said Herrmann. “For example, the Malaysians have a couple of runners who have an individual personal best of around 10.50 seconds. It’s the same with the Indonesians and Thais.
“With our young runners, we have to work more on our baton exchange techniques to reduce their overall timings a bit more.”