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Gymnasts' Olympic bid gets a lift

A series of high-profile appointments, coupled with a new organisation structure, could spark new life in the Singapore gymnastics scene.

The sport's national governing body, Singapore Gymnastics (SG), has landed a coup by bringing on board Karen Norden, who was a senior manager (participation and sport development) at Gymnastics Australia.

The 54-year-old Australian will be the new general manager of SG. She is signed on a two-year contract and is tasked with overseeing the development and growth of the sport here.

Yesterday, barely 12 hours after arriving in Singapore from Melbourne, Norden was handing out medals to junior gymnasts at the ongoing Singapore Open Gymnastics Championships.

The mother of two said she is eager to use her wealth of experience, expertise and her international network to groom SG's young managers and boost its technical capabilities. After all, during her 11-year tenure at Gymnastics Australia, membership grew by 10 per cent year on year, she noted.

She quipped: "We can suck Australia dry. We can get pretty good stuff from it."

She added: "This is a big challenge for me. The difference is that I've got to look not just at governance, but high performance and participation as well. We've got to connect the pathway."

CLARITY MOVING FORWARD

It's a big step forward. We have a strong leader to mentor us, who will set a clear direction for us to move towards.''

LIM HEEM WEI, former national gymnast, on working with new GM Karen Norden

Another new hire is a familiar face in the local gymnastics fraternity. Lim Heem Wei, Singapore's first Olympic gymnast who competed at the London Games in 2012, also joined SG this month as one of three new sport development managers.

These new full-time leadership positions have been created after SG restructured its organisation in order to boost long-term growth, with the aim of winning an Olympic medal in 2028.

Lim will be in charge of women's artistic gymnastics, while Perry Koh, 27, and Choy Dian Chun, 26, will oversee men's artistic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics respectively.

Each of them are responsible for taking charge of both recreational and elite athletes within their own disciplines.

It is a move that SG president Choy Kah Kin felt would make coordination smoother and easier because each manager has experience in their respective disciplines.

To take on the new role, Lim, 28, is no longer involved with Dreams Gymnastics, a school she set up two years ago after she retired from competition in 2014.

She said: "This will be a different challenge for me. It wasn't easy giving up (the business), but I was mentally prepared for it when I went into it.

"I'm really excited to work alongside Karen. It's a big step forward. We have a strong leader to mentor us, who will set a clear direction for us to move towards.

"Now we're a lot more focused and we can grow more in depth for each discipline."

These changes are necessary to breathe new life into a sport that has been saddled with declining competition levels and standards.

At this year's Schools National Gymnastics Championships, just 14 schoolboys took part across the A, B and C Divisions of the artistic gymnastics competition.

At the last SEA Games, held on home soil in 2015, the Republic did not win an artistic gymnastics gold for the first time since 2003. The sport was not contested at the 2009 and 2013 editions of the biennial Games.

Choy, 61, noted: "We've reached a stage when we need to increase our technical capabilities across all levels, from coaches to judges, grassroots to elite levels.

"If you look at artistic gymnastics, we haven't been improving as fast as we would have liked to, while our neighbours have improved a lot in these few years."

While these new changes bring an air of optimism, national women's artistic gymnast Zeng Qiyan, 20, said: "We have to wait and see, because any changes will take a while. I hope that with a better organised management structure, things will become better and more efficient."