The Republic’s pencak silat athletes have never won more than three gold medals at any SEA Games and competing on home ground will not be much of an advantage when Singapore hosts the biennial event from June 5 to June 16, said Singapore Silat Federation (SSF) chief executive officer Sheik Alau’ddin Yacoob Marican.
Traditional powerhouses Indonesia and Malaysia have always dominated the sport, but with Vietnam fighting the two countries for supremacy since 2005, winning medals, let alone gold, has become difficult, he added.
When the silat competition starts on June 10 at the Singapore Expo, Sheik Alau’ddin is banking his hopes on 2013 Games gold medallist Nur Alfian Juma’en in the Class F event, and 2012 world champion Shakir Juanda in Class H.
Despite the stiff competition, he said there are “dark horses” in his seven-man and six-woman squad capable of springing a surprise or two.
They include Class E fighter Sheik Ferdous, Iqbal Abdul Rahman in the artistic singles event for men and the women artistic team.
“Although I am not expecting more than two golds from Nur Alfian and Shakir, anything can happen when the home crowd get behind our athletes,” said Sheik Alau’ddin.
“Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam will dominate silat here, but emotions run high when friends and families are shouting and cheering on our guys and girls. When this happens, it can push them to perform beyond themselves. So while I am realistic about our chances, I am not writing off the possibility of getting more than two gold medals.”
Keeping focus and following instructions are two areas Nur Alfian needs to strengthen if he is to defend his Games gold medal. These weak spots unravelled in January at Phuket where he failed to get past the Class F quarter-final of the World Pencak Silat Championship.
Said the 18-year-old: “I did not follow the game plan of my coaches because I was too eager to get the points. This allowed my opponent to take me down several times.
“By the time I came to my senses and was able to score points, it was not enough to win the match.”
To help the host team put on a good showing for the competition, the SSF hired two Indonesian coaches, Muhammad Fiqri and Muhammad Hamdi, in April last year to sharpen their techniques.
Fiqri said they have been pushing the athletes to use more of what they have in their armoury when they step onto the mat to do battle.
“For example, although they know how to use the scissors technique to bring down an opponent, many have not been using this as much as they should,” he added.
“They also tend to use the same style and this makes them predictable. So what Hamdi and I have been doing is to get them to train a lot more in other areas so that they will have more weapons to use next month.”
Although Nurul Suhailah has not been mentioned as one of the medal hopefuls, the 19-year-old is hoping to make an impact in her second attempt at the Games after returning home empty-handed from Myanmar two years ago.
“I am going for gold, no matter what,” she said defiantly. “We are competing in Singapore and my family and friends are coming to watch me. Although there is pressure to do well in front of them, this is good pressure because it will push me to win something.”