15 August 17 The Straits Times by NICOLE CHIA
Short-track speed skater Lucas Ng knows that, no matter how fast he skates, he cannot escape the attention of his regional rivals ahead of the SEA Games.
This year's edition will include winter sports for the first time, but while most Games debutants face arguably less pressure to perform than their more established compatriots, Ng will likely begin with a target on his back already.
The 28-year-old is Singapore's first Asian Winter Games representative in 2011, and was the top South-east Asian finisher in the men's 500m event at this year's edition in Japan.
In January, he also completed a clean sweep of individual titles - the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m events - at the MapleZ South-east Asian Short Track Trophy meet held in Singapore.
Despite six years spent competing against some of the world's best at top events including the International Skating Union Short Track Speed Skating World Cup series and world championships, the pressure of competing at the SEA Games is considerable for Ng.
"This SEA Games feels more important and more prestigious," he told The Straits Times in a Skype interview from Goyang, South Korea.
"We're not competing with big names who have been in the sport for 20 years, but with skaters in the region who started in the sport at the same time.
GOLD MEDALS ON OFFER: 8
TEAM SINGAPORE FIGURE SKATERS - WOMEN
• Chloe Ing (Individual)
• Yu Shuran (Individual)
• Miki Chong (500m, 1,000m, 3,000m relay)
• Chua Qi En (3,000m relay)
• Lim Chia Yeh (3,000m relay)
• Lim Jun Hao (3,000m relay)
• Lucas Ng (500m, 1,000m, 3,000m relay)
• Victoria Chin (3,000m relay)
• Deanna See (3,000m relay)
• Cheyenne Goh (500m, 1,000m, relay)
• Danielle Han (500m, 1,000m, 3,000m relay)
• Suvian Chua (3,000m relay)
"Usually it's at South-east Asia-level competitions where I feel the stakes are higher, because all the competitors are roughly at the same level and there's a better chance of winning a medal."
Dealing with the pressure of competition, however, is something the former schools sprinter has grown used to and embraced over the years, and he has done this by "fighting fear with fear itself".
"The more you do something, the more comfortable you get," Ng explained. "If someone who is afraid of heights just keeps doing activities that involve high obstacles like mountain-climbing, eventually they become more confident.
"Likewise for skating - with regular training, you understand more about the techniques and slowly gain confidence to increase your speed... you just have to keep trying and never give up."
Which is why, just as he did ahead of his first competition at the 2011 Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan, Ng continues to enter every race with his mind focused on his race plan and the techniques practised in training.
Recalling that he had been surprised to find that he was not "nervous or breaking out in cold sweat before my race" in 2011, he added: "I didn't go there with the mindset that I'm going to win, because at that point I had just started the sport - it was about going there to learn more and about competing, and watching what racing is like."
Much has changed since then and Ng knows it, saying: "Back then I was like a baby in speed skating, but now I've grown up a bit more."
Apart from feeling more confident, he has also acquired more experience, skills and speed. But the most important part of his journey has remained the same - his relentless pursuit of improvement.
"My mindset towards racing has been the same since the beginning, and I think that's what has got me to where I am today," he said.
"I won't give up. I will keep going no matter how hard training is, because I know there's always room for improvement. Even if I'm at my peak or at my fastest, I can always improve my technique and speed."
Although Ng acknowledged that he will probably be marked as "one to look out for" in Kuala Lumpur, he is still expecting to win a medal amid stiff competition at the Empire City ice rink in Damansara Perdana, where the SEA Games ice skating and ice hockey competitions will take place.
Ng, who is aiming to win a medal in each of his three events (500m, 1,000m and 3,000m relay), added: "I'm quite sure our neighbouring countries are improving themselves as well, they have talented skaters who are also training hard and I believe there'll be a good fight at the SEA Games."