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SEA Games: Team Singapore could finish with 52-gold haul

The last few years have been rich for Singapore sport as the country has hit milestone after milestone, starting with a record gold haul at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, followed by Joseph Schooling's historic Olympic gold at the Rio Games last year.

That momentum is set to continue in Kuala Lumpur as the Republic's class of 2017 attempt to surpass their predecessors' best away performance at the biennial competition, which was 43 golds won at the 2007 Korat Games in Thailand.

Nothing in sport is guaranteed but with luck added to undoubted talent, The Straits Times predicts this feat is within reach and that Singapore could capture 52 golds in Malaysia.

It would represent only the third time the country has reached the half-century mark (50 golds in 1993, 84 golds in 2015, both editions held on home soil) and to do so in back-to-back Games would offer proof that Singapore has made great strides in the sporting arena.

Not just in terms of the quantity of golds but also in the distribution of the bounty. In 2007, 12 sports were responsible for the golds but this newspaper predicts a potential 18 different sports - equalling the spread in 2015 - will contribute over the next 12 days.

On Sunday, Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin expressed his hope for a better tally than the 2007 Games and while Singapore chef de mission Milan Kwee was more guarded in his assessment, he noted any attempt at history would start from familiar sources.

Singapore has dominated swimming, table tennis and bowling - they combined for 33 golds two years ago - and they will again be relied upon to deliver.

Kwee said: "You can't expect all sports to win but traditional sports will be there and it looks like they will deliver."

Bowler Shayna Ng said the goal in KL would be to equal or better their four-gold haul from 2015. The 27-year-old added: "We cannot promise you the medals but we can promise that we'll give 100 per cent."

As host nation, Malaysia has the prerogative to choose what it wants on the sports programme, and besides playing to their strengths, they are also aware of their rival's strong suits.

It is why canoeing and floorball (Singapore claimed a total of nine golds in 2015 in these sports) have been dropped, while the number of events in shooting and sailing (Singapore won five and 10 titles respectively in 2015) has seen significant cuts.

Much will be expected of swimming, a historical gold mine for Singapore, to shoulder the burden.

The swimmers won 23 of the 38 golds on offer two years ago but are not expected to be as dominant at the National Aquatic Centre in Bukit Jalil due to several factors.

Double Asian Games champion Tao Li, who won four individual golds in 2015, is absent while Schooling and fellow Olympian Quah Zheng Wen will have a reduced work load.

Schooling, 22, swam and won six individual events in 2015 but will compete in only three during the Aug 21-26 meet. Quah, 20, had nine individual events in 2015 and won four and has entered four individual events next week.

The duo, together with Quah's 24-year-old sister Ting Wen, a winner of 13 SEA Games golds, are the senior members of the 27-strong swim squad that is short on experience. Ten are making their Games debuts and more than half of this group are 16 or younger.

National training centre head coach Gary Tan acknowledged this rawness and admitted that for many, this was akin to being thrown into the deep end, but "it was also a good chance for them to prove themselves".

Youthfulness is a recurring theme for Singapore's contingent of 568 athletes, of whom 308 are appearing at the Games for the first time. There are 75 who are aged 20 or younger.

This is the nation's largest Games squad sent overseas and they will compete in 35 of the 38 sports offered in Malaysia, skipping weightlifting, volleyball and sepak takraw.

The new additions to the SEA Games line-up - winter sports (ice hockey, figure skating and short-track speed skating) and cricket - bodes well for Singapore's gold-medal chances.

Singapore are favourites for both the men's 50-overs and Twenty20 events while speed skater Lucas Ng is among the region's best. The 28-year-old reached the quarter-finals of the 500m sprint at February's Asian Winter Games in Japan. He was the top South-east Asian finisher.

His time of 45.003 seconds at the ISU World Short Track Championships in Rotterdam in March is faster than his Asean rivals, noted national coach Chun Lee Kyung.

She said: "He has a very good chance in the 500m to win gold."

To assistant chef de mission Lee Wung Yew, a former shooter who won a team trap gold and individual bronze at the 2007 Games, this is a golden period for Singapore sport.

He said: "Whenever we go out, there's always this unspoken thing - we want to keep improving and doing better. We have a few veteran athletes who are involved, like (shooter and triple Commonwealth Games champion) Jasmine (Ser) but there are many new faces.

"It bodes well for our country to have new blood coming in."

•Additional reporting by Nicole Chia