Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Liu hopes for another Asian Games splash

INGAPORE - Four years ago, national sailors Justin Liu and Sherman Cheng clinched the men's 420 title at the Asian Games in Doha, contributing to Singapore's total haul of five golds, making the Republic the continent's top sailing team.

The 420 pair are expected to get the nod to defend their crown at this year's Asian Games, which will be held in Guangzhou from Nov 12 to 27.

SingaporeSailing are hopeful their win at last week's International 420 World Sailing Championship in Israel will support their request for Liu, 19, to be deferred from enlisting for full-time National Service if he is selected for the Games.

"Their result is an encouragement to all sailors that we can produce world champions. It's a really fantastic achievement," SingaporeSailing executive director Edwin Low told MediaCorp yesterday.

"Justin and Sherman are examples of sailors with fire in the belly. If they get selected for the Asian Games, we hope this result will help support our application for Justin's deferment."

Liu had already been granted deferment by the Ministry of Defence to train full-time for the Asian Games - in Parliament in May, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean described him as having "proven himself an exceptional sailor" - and is due to enlist around November.

Cheng, 18, a second-year student with the Singapore Sports School's thru-train programme with the Auckland University of Technology, is expected to enlist next year. SingaporeSailing are expected to finalise their Games squad by the end of September.

Early yesterday morning, some 50 well-wishers, parents, team-mates, staff and officials from SingaporeSailing turned up at Changi Airport to welcome the 10-strong squad home from Israel.

Liu and Cheng became the first Singapore sailors to win a senior 420 world title when they topped the 83-strong overall fleet. Singapore have now produced 17 world sailing champions since 2004 in various classes, including the Byte, Optimist and Laser 4.7.

As the 420 is a non-Olympic event, Liu and Cheng are expected to graduate to the 470 class next year. For now, their target is to feature in this year's Asian Games sailing competition in Shanwei.

"Justin and Sherman have improved tremendously, particularly in terms of temperament and handling pressure," said national 420 coach Zhang Yongqiang.

"A crucial part of their Asian Games plan is increasing their combined weight from 121kg to about 125kg as conditions in Shanwei are far stronger."

"We've been training together for almost five years, so this success is an affirmation that we are on the right track," said Cheng.

Added Liu: "Hopefully, based on this result, we can get selected for the Asian Games. This win in Israel has boosted our morale, but the Asian Games are a completely different race.

"It will be a smaller fleet - in Israel we had over 80 boats, whereas in China it would probably not be more than 10. Conditions will also be different, and we've to work really hard to be prepared."

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