The Singapore Sailing Federation, also known as SingaporeSailing, is the national sports association responsible for the management and organization of the sport of sailing in Singapore. SingaporeSailing's President Teo Ping LOW, also one of ISAF's Vice-Presidents, is at the helm leading the eight-man Executive Committee.
Heading the management team is Andrew SANDERS, the Executive Director, who oversees the overall implementation of policies and operations of the Federation. Head of High Performance Mark ROBINSON, takes care of the elite sailing programmes and national squads. Selvam MOOKKEN, Head of Finance, Administration and Human Resources, handles issues relating to the financial and human resources.
LOW has been a central figure in the success story, first of all in the task of managing the Singapore National Sailing Centre, which he took on when it was officially opened in 1999. He was appointed Secretary General of SingaporeSailing in 2005 and is also the Head of High Participation, leading Singapore's sailors at the Asian Games, Youth Worlds and other international events. Outside of his official capacity, he has been involved in sailing for 25 years, first falling in love with the sport after being taken out on a Hobie 16 by his brother.
For LOW, the keys to Singapore's recent success are twofold, 'Participation and performance form the main elements of any sailing model. High participation helps feed the pipeline to elite sailing, and through high performance, we create buzz and increased publicity, which will encourage participation. We believe both are interlinked, and we view them as equally important in contributing to the success of any sailing programme.'
The 'buzz' LOW talks about has reached a new level over the past couple of years, with Singapore's sailors reaching a new level of excellence. A massive victory came at the 2005 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in Busan, Korea, when Wee Chin TEO and Terence KOH (SIN) won their nation's first ever gold medal at the Youth Worlds. Later in the year, Singapore's sailors cleaned up at the South East Asian Games in the Philippines, bringing home seven gold and three silver medals in a nation-best performance.
In 2006 the bar was raised again as Singapore excelled at World Championships around the globe. Boys and girls titles went to Singapore at both the Byte and Laser 4.7 Worlds. Whilst they narrowly missed outright victory at the Optimist Worlds, Griselda KHNG (SIN) finished as top girl in second place overall, Singapore won the Miami Herald Trophy for best nation and also the Optimist Team Racing World title. The senior team also added to the trophy cabinet, with Singapore the top sailing nation at the Asian Games in Doha, with five gold medals, three silvers and two bronzes. Last week, Valerie CHIA (SIN) won the 2007 Women's Byte World title, with Herman NURFENDI (SIN) taking the silver medal in the open competition.
With the focus on 'participation and performance', SingaporeSailing concentrates on two key areas: the elite development squad and participation in all programmes. LOW explained how the elite squad works,
'The numbers in the national training squads were built up over the last few years. Transparent and meritocratic selection processes were devised, and they act as the conditions for selection policies for major competitions. A ranking system for each class was developed and implemented to allow sailors to compare their performance against others.
'The rankings are used as the basic criteria to invite deserving sailors to the national training squads. National sailors have to abide by set guidelines and minimum on-water training hours, as these are necessary in order to compete effectively at the international level.'
For sailors progressing through the system, no stone is left unturned.
'Fitness training is also an integral component. Our training programmes assist national sailors in achieving the required training hours, and our domestic racing calendar challenges and develops the sailors. Selected athletes go on to compete at regional and world events for benchmarking and international ranking.'
'Forty of the top Optimist sailors and another 30 in the Byte class train at the National Sailing Centre five times a week. From here, they progress to other classes and while top youth sailors are selected to join an accelerate programme, the Talented Athlete Programme (TAP) is where the real cream of the crop moves on to the Olympic squad. The pyramid structure has thousands of sailors at the bottom, around 600 racing, 120 in the national squad and about 20 to 25 in the TAP and Olympic programmes.'
With so many titles and medal at youth level and within Asia, and with such a strong programme behind the sport, the big question now is on what happens next. At last year's Youth Worlds in Weymouth, Great Britain, Singapore Team Leader Mark ROBINSON summed it up, 'We've had success now with the youth sailors. The trick now is to translate it into the Olympic Classes.'
At the moment there are 21 sailors in the Olympic and Talented Athlete Programme (TAP), 12 male and nine female sailors. The Olympic squad includes Roy Junhao TAY, a Youth Worlds silver medallist in 2001 and Terence KOH, crew for the 2005 gold medallist, whilst the TAP includes younger stars like 18 year old Maximilian SOH (SIN), Asian Games Champion and a surprise 11th at last year's Olympic Test Event, and Victoria CHAN (SIN), just 16 years old but already with a fourth place at the Youth Worlds and a Laser 4.7 World title under her belt.
Looking ahead, LOW has big ambitions for this group of sailors, 'We are now preparing for our next targets which include qualification for the Olympics, medals at the ISAF Youth World Championships, South-East Asian Games and 2008 Olympics.'
For a nation whose sole sailing representative at the last Olympic Games came in 37th in a 42-strong Laser fleet, it is a bold aim. But over the past two years Singapore's sailors have taken the performance side of their programme to a new level and come the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal this July, it would be no great surprise to see the SIN sail insignia become a familiar sight.
In part two of our interview, Edwin LOW will reveal more about Singapore's secret to success in expanding participation.