Oct 17, 2010
Shift in strategy hits bull's eye
The Sunday Times traces Singapore shooting's success story, from a sport featuring ageing trap shooters a decade ago to one with fresh-faced world beaters in the pistol and rifle disciplines today. Like swimming, it has not depended much on foreign talent. Stars are mostly local-bred, and the result of a successful push to popularise the sport in schools
For a sports administrator whose charges have been hogging the headlines for the past fortnight, the chief of the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA) is surprisingly reluctant to pop the champagne.
Chng Seng Mok, hours after returning from the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, looks shocked when the subject of whether there are celebrations planned after the record haul of five golds, four silvers and five bronzes is raised.
The previous best was 1-1-3 in the Melbourne Games in 2006.
'A few years ago, we'd celebrate after winning South-east Asia Games medals,' the 60-year-old said on Thursday. 'That was the level we aimed for. But I don't even want to celebrate now. At most, I'll have a beer.
'I'm not belittling our achievements, but ultimately our aim is an Olympic medal.'
The complexion of Singapore shooting has certainly changed in the past decade.
It used to be dominated by men in their 30s and 40s - such as household name and 13-time SEA Games gold medallist Lee Wung Yew - excelling with shotguns. Until the 2005 SEA Games, Singapore's shooting golds all came from these clay-target events.
But, led by the likes of 20-year-old Jasmine Ser, Singapore shooters have displayed world-class performances in the air pistol and rifle disciplines, which have more medals on offer at major Games.
In New Delhi, 26 of the 36 shooting golds were in these disciplines, collectively called air weapons.
Also noteworthy is that, like swimming and sailing, shooting's increasing haul of SEA Games and Commonwealth Games medals in recent years has come from home-bred athletes. China-born Gai Bin, who came in 2004 as a coach and switched to competing in 2006, is the only foreign talent among the medallists.
'We believe we can develop local talent, it's the way to go,' said SSA vice-president Brigadier-General Lim Kim Lye.
The 59-year-old had a crucial part to play in sowing the seeds of today's success a decade ago, said Chng, a multiple SEA Games and Asian Games trap medallist.
In 1997, Lim, then Safra Shooting Club's chairman, was the team manager of the SEA Games side who returned from Jakarta with four golds.
'But there was no depth, all the success were in the shotgun events,' Lim recalled. 'We were last in the rifle and pistol events. All 20-plus of our athletes.'
These shooters had been donning national colours for over a decade without garnering much success, and Lim felt it was time to groom a new generation of marksmen in these disciplines.
He and other officials set out on a charm offensive, and managed to convince the Ministry of Education to recognise shooting (air weapons) as a Co-Curricular Activity in 2000.
School ranges, primarily for National Cadet Corp use and not suitable for competition, also had to be converted.
Over five years, about 45 ranges' lighting and target systems were overhauled, said Lim, an SSA vice-president since 2000.
Students' safety was a concern, but he tied up with the MOE to conduct instructor courses for teachers. Passing this was a pre-requisite for them to be in charge of the sport in schools.
Lim also pushed for a $3.2 million indoor air weapons range at Safra Yishun Country Club, which opened in 2001.
It boasted world-class competition standards like a fully-automated target-retrieval system and 36 lanes.
Previously, facilities were meagre: A shotgun range at Bukit Timah and an ageing eight-lane air weapon facility at Bukit Merah.
The concerted efforts to breathe life into the sport have paid off, and the myth that shooting is for uncles has been dispelled.
The estimated 2,000 student-shooters are a key pillar in building a base to exploit a potential gold mine for Singapore.
At multi-discipline Games, shooting's medals are rivalled by only swimming and track and field.
At next month's 42-sport Asian Games in Guangzhou, there are 44 shooting gold medals on offer, bettered only by athletics (47). Swimming has 38.
London 2012 Olympics will have 15 shooting events.
There were hints that the shooters were set for a golden harvest, with surprise medals at the 2006 Commonwealth Games (On Shaw Ming, gold), and Asian Games (Jasmine Ser, Adrienne Ser and Vanessa Yong, silver).
To build on the success, officials are pushing the Government for a new $30 million integrated electronic-scoring range, something countries like Malaysia have had for years.
While local shooters go to the high-tech Yishun range for 10m events, they have to travel to the dilapidated manual paper-target Chua Chu Kang range for the 25m and 50m events.
The hour or so spent on travelling could be better used for training if they had a one-stop facility, especially as the junior shooters have limited time and can train only after school hours.
SSA general manager Lim Meng Kiaw said: 'We've improved so much in 10 years with what we had. But to move to the next level, we need the infrastructure.'
Olympic medal the main target
'A few years ago, we'd celebrate after winning SEA Games medals. That was the level we aimed for. But I don't even want to celebrate now. At most, I'll have a beer. I'm not belittling our achievements, but ultimately our aim is an Olympic medal.'
CHNG SENG MOK, president, Singapore Shooting Association
THE PAST: HAUL AT MAJOR GAMES
South-east Asia Games
Oct 17, 2010
Schools shooting for young stars
When 14-year-old Venus Loh started Secondary 1 at Broadrick Secondary School last year, she put down her choir song books for a shooting jacket and rifle, forming part of the school's pioneer batch of shooters.
Within two months of her first contact with the sport, she finished 10th at the national inter-school shooting championships while Broadrick Secondary - taking their first shot at a competition of any sort - finished an impressive sixth in the Schools National C Division girls' air rifle category.
The school bettered that performance this year and Venus was invited to the national youth squad after her fourth-placed finish in the individual category.
Thanks to big names like Commonwealth Games gold medallists Jasmine Ser, Aqilah Sudhir - both were unearthed while still in the uniforms of Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School and Singapore Sports School - and rising talent like Venus, schools are now increasingly depended on to provide the future of Singapore's shooting stars.
Lim Meng Kiaw, general manager of the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA), said: 'When the SSA wanted to improve the standard of air weapon shooting, we decided it should start from the schools.
'It is important to start young. If we start at school, then we can look at everybody. The schools will choose the best to compete and we'll invite those who do well to join us. So we get the best.'
Students began to compete in the International Shooting Sport Federation format, used international-standard air rifles, and shooting was also earmarked for the Junior Sports Academies (JSA) programme last year.
The JSA for shooting, formed last year, is a push to go even younger. Instead of thrusting guns into the hands of Sec 1 students, Primary 4 pupils are being roped in.
Such measures have helped to fuel a steady increase in the sport at the school level.
According to Lim, from 20 schools and fewer than 200 shooters 15 years ago, about 50 schools now have their own ranges and more than 2,000 students are training and competing in rifle and pistol events.
Even air pistol, which was only incorporated into secondary schools in 2006 and does not enjoy as rich a history as rifle-shooting, is now comparable in terms of participation.
Said SSA vice-president Brigadier-General Lim Kim Lye: 'We're getting requests for people to join our Junior Sports Academy every day since the Commonwealth Games.'
He aims to enrol 40 rookies every year.
And while strong shooters tended to come from schools like Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, who are traditionally strong in shooting, they now come from a broader range of schools.
This includes West Spring Secondary School, who were named a niche school in air pistol shooting just this year. The school currently have six students in the national youth air pistol team.
In order to identify students with both the steady hands and mental resilience required for shooting, schools like West Spring and Broadrick make it a point to assess each new batch of students through a series of tests.
According to Broadrick Secondary School principal Phua Huat Chuan, shooting has yielded far more than just sporting honours for the school.
'It provides a very rigorous platform for developing a student's character,' he said, adding that the focus skills students learn through the sport has helped put them among the top in the school in terms of academic performance.
The SSA's future plans include helping to increase schools' participation through organising monthly competitions that offer budding shooters experience, as well as a chance to earn a place in the national youth squad.
Said Lim Meng Kiaw: 'Not every school have shooting as a CCA now. We want to convince more schools to take up shooting so that we can be assured of finding more talent.'
THE FUTURE: HOTSHOTS TO WATCH
The Under-21s from the school system who will continue to be the core of the shooting team for years to come
Goh Jia Yi, 16
Jonathan Koh, 20
Aqilah Sudhir, 19