TeamSG's Quest for SEA Games Gold, Begins with Upcoming Asian Water Polo Championships!
Team Singapore vs Thailand in Inter Nations Cup 2022 at OCBC Aquatics Centre. Photo Credit : Cheng Poh/SSA
2023 is unprecedented with both the South-east Asian Games and the Asian Games, taking place in the same year! And Singapore will be sending their Men's and Women's national teams to compete in Cambodia and China respectively.
Singapore's last best showing by the Men's Team at the Asian Games was back in 1986, when the Republic secured a bronze medal in Seoul. And at the SEA Games, it was also a 3rd-place finish in Manila 2019. It was a truly significant moment in the Philippines, as after a dominant winning streak which lasted 54 years, TeamSG finally succumbed to its 1st-ever defeat and had to settle for the bronze medal. And in the 2021 Hanoi Games, water polo was not contested. Meanwhile, the Republic's women's squad won silver in Manila 4 years ago and their last Asian Games campaign was a 6th-place finish in Incheon 2014.
As we countdown to the 22-27 Mar water polo extravaganza at the Singapore Sports Hub, ActiveSG Circle recently caught up with Mr Dominic Soh (Vice President for Water Polo, Singapore Swimming Association), Lee Kai Yang (Captain, Singapore Men's National Team) and Koh Ting Ting (Captain, Singapore Women's National Team).
TeamSG vs Thailand's women's squad at the Inter Nations Cup 2022. Photo Credit : Cheng Poh/SSA
Dominic Soh (Vice President for Water Polo, Singapore Swimming Association)
Q : What is the key mission for Singapore's Men's and Women's teams at both the SEA and Asian Games this year?
VP Soh : Our immediate goal for the SEA Games for both Men’s and the Women’s teams is to bring back two Gold medals for the nation. For the Men’s, our vision for the longer term is to reinstate our supremacy in water polo in the region and to continue with the legacy of being the team sport which won the most Gold medals for Singapore. And anchoring on this renewed trend, we next aim for a podium position at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.
For the Women’s, our vision is to mirror the Men’s achievements in SEA Games. To sustain such a vision, we would need to drastically increase the participation of women in water polo, strengthen the women’s development and pathway so as to continuously and consistently stay at the top. For the Asian Games this year, we are aiming to be at least within the Top 5 teams for Men and Women. I am confident that both teams will perform well!
TeamSG's skipper Lee Kai Yang. Photo Credit : Singapore Swimming Association
Lee Kai Yang (Captain, Singapore Men's National Team)
Number of years with National Team: 12
Q: What are your initial thoughts going into this event at the OAC?
Kai Yang : It's always an amazing feeling to play at home in Singapore where our friends and loved ones, who have sacrificed so much along side the team, get to watch us compete and represent the country. Also, it gives the younger generation of players a chance to see first-hand, what they can aspire towards and hopefully one day, it will be them competing on home soil for Singapore.
The team is thankful for all the various stakeholders and authorities that have come together to make the hosting of this competition in Singapore a possibility. We are excited to be competing and will put our best foot forward when the competition begins!
Q : How has Coach Kan Aoyagi developed the team since his arrival in 2021?
Kai Yang : We are very fortunate to have been under the tutelage of a succession of top-level coaches from Coach Sai Meng, to Coach Dejan and now to be with Coach Kan. This meant that with the arrival of each new coach, they could build on the existing work and foundation set by their predecessor. Coach Kan was very particular in understanding where we were at when he first took over. And to ensure that the learnings he could provide, were built on top of all the lessons and experience that has been accrued by the team over the years.
Coach Kan has an ineffably positive demeanor which keeps the players motivated and hungry to learn and improve. The team is progressing well and we are eager to compete and see where we stand amongst the other Asian nations.
Q : Of the 3 group opponents (Uzbekistan, Thailand and China), which country would provide the toughest challenge and why?
Kai Yang : Definitely China. They've consistently medalled in the Asian Games except the last one in 2018 where they narrowly finished fourth. They have a predominantly professional team, hence, we can expect a very high level of fitness and they will want to continuously push the pace of the game. Their players are also of larger stature, hence they play a very physical game as well. Our team will have our work cut out for us, but we'll give it our best no matter the result.
Q : Is there a realistic chance of TeamSG finishing in the Top 4 here and earning that ticket to Berlin?
Kai Yang : Yes, I think there is; we have a few crucial games to play. We know where we stand in Asia and we know how much we have improved, but in sport, there is no guarantee. All I can say is, we are focused on executing our game plans well and we will live with the results that come at the end.
Q : 2023’s a big year with 2 Major Games – what are you hoping to achieve at the SEA Games in Cambodia in May and the Asian Games in Hangzhou?
Kai Yang : The target for SEA Games is clear - all of us are gunning for gold, there is no second guessing that. The whole team has been working really hard for that and we know our competitors have as well. We will continue to put our best effort and hope to achieve our targets.
The target for Asian Games is to improve on our previous showing (where we finished 6th), but we still have a few months for that competition. As we come closer, we will have more clarity as to where we stand and where our competitors rank, before we set a definitive target.
TeamSG's Koh Ting Ting, Felipe Perrone (Captain, 2022 World Champions, Spain) and Lee Kai Yang (SGP) in Feb 2023. Photo Credit : Singapore Swimming Association
Koh Ting Ting (Captain, Singapore Women's National Team)
Number of years with National Team: 8
Q : What are your initial thoughts going into this event at the OAC?
Ting Ting : Everything happened pretty fast, initially it was still a maybe to this competition happening in Singapore. It was only a month ago that we got the news that it is happening and the scale of this competition sounds exciting and I can't wait to meet opponents that we've met last November 2022 at the Asian Water Polo Championships in Thailand. It would be the team's first time meeting Uzbekistan and we hope to be able to put up a good match to all 3 teams.
Q : How has Coach Luo Nan prepped the team for the upcoming competition?
Ting Ting : Due to several major competitions lined up this year, (Asian Championships, the potential trip to Berlin for the World Aquatics Water Polo World Cup 2023, the SEA Games, World Uni Games & Asian Games), it is hard to put focus on ALL competitions. Hence Coach's game plan is to focus on SEA Games & Asian Games and train through the rest. This year's emphasis was more on fitness and tactics.
TeamSG at Asian Water Polo Champions in November 2022. Photo Credit : Singapore Swimming Association
Q : Of the 3 group opponents (Uzbekistan, Thailand and Kazakhstan), which country would provide the toughest challenge and why?
Ting Ting : We met the Thais and Kazakhstan in Nov last year and we put up a good fight to both teams. The toughest challenge would be the Uzbeks as our team has never met them before and it's been many years since UZB played at a major competition. Hence it would be a 'test water’ in the first quarter.
Q: Having last featured at the SEA Games in 2019, what are your team-mates planning to achieve in Cambodia in May?
Ting Ting : We're aiming for Gold and nothing lesser than that.
Q: Our Women’s squad has only competed once at the Asian Games and that was back in 2014. And you’ve earned the approval to compete in Hangzhou 2023. As captain, how are you planning to rally your fellow team mates for this campaign?
Ting Ting : We’re happy that the Women's team has gotten approval to compete in this year's edition. We're very excited to have this opportunity. We’re not going to focus on how grand of a scale Asian Games is, but to focus on the process, taking one game at a time, and playing our best in every match.
Fixtures Table of Asian Water Polo Championships in Singapore. Image Credit : Singapore Swimming Association
Match tickets for the Asian Championships at the OAC are available here.