By Leonard Lim
THE coach behind the recent success of Singapore’s women sprinters has been given the axe.
Loh Chan Pew, who coached the national 4x100m women’s team to a national record in 2007, will no longer be in charge of the team he helped to build.
In an e-mail to members of the squad, Singapore Athletic Association technical director C. Veeramani announced that a new coach – Tang Ngai Kin – had been appointed.
Tang is scheduled to meet the team for the first time tomorrow.
Loh had worked with the quartet of Amanda Choo, Lee Yan Lin, Ann Siao Mei and Wong Ze Teng since 2003.
Under his guidance, Choo broke the national 100m record in 2007. It had stood for 18 years before that.
The team also rewrote the 34-year-old national 4x100m mark that same year.
The SAA insists Loh, 63, is being replaced because it wants new blood. It also adds that he has not attained the association’s minimum coaching qualification standard.
Loh was disappointed by the move, which came to light in Veeramani’s e-mail sent late last year, but declined further comment.
However, insiders believe the veteran – with nearly 30 years of coaching experience – has been forced out because he does not see eye to eye with the current SAA administration.
Tang, 56, is a former national men’s and women’s relay coach and was in charge at the 1997 Jakarta South-east Asia Games, where the women’s team took bronze.
Former national sprinters Hamkah Afik, 37, Muhamad Hosni, 37, and Alfred Sim, 28, will be assisting Tang in addition to coaching the men’s relay squads.
Veeramani insisted the change would be for the better, saying: ‘We want new blood.
‘Also, we want those with Level 3 and Level 4 International Association of Athletics Federations coaching certificates, instead of the previous minimum of Level 2.
‘Chan Pew is only at Level 2.’
The Level 1 course is an overview of coaching, while Level 2 covers a general multi-event syllabus. Level 3 and above delve more into specific events such as sprints.
Tang and Hosni hold the maximum Level 5 qualification, but Hamkah and Sim have only Level 2 certificates.
The SAA typically nominates one candidate per course. Lasting one to two weeks and conducted internationally, the courses are held about once every two years.
Asked why Loh had not been nominated previously, Veeramani replied: ‘We’ll work on it.’
Said Tang, a five-time SEA Games silver medallist in decathlon, sprint and relay events: ‘Veeramani wants a revamp, and he appointed me for the women’s team. I’m just doing my job.’
The change in coaches has left the women’s team puzzled.
They had not been consulted about the move and had been looking forward to working with Loh for the Laos SEA Games in December.
Said Choo: ‘We asked why he was dropped but the SAA would only say that it was part of its new plans, without elaborating.’
Choo, Ann, Wong and Lee, all aged 22, had progressed well under Loh. In 2005 and 2006, they broke the national 4x100m junior records.
They then rewrote the senior record set in 1973 by Heather Marican, Gan Bee Wah, Glory Barnabas and Sheila Fernando in September 2007, and bettered it at the SEA Games in December.
They have also cut their relay time from over 48 seconds five years ago to 46.68sec, the current national record.
Choo broke Prema Govindan’s 18-year-old 100m mark in September 2007.
She then lowered it at that year’s SEA Games, clocking 12.12 en route to becoming the first Singaporean to qualify for the final since 1973, when Eng Chiew Guay won gold in the then-South-east Asian Peninsular Games.
Lamented Ann: ‘The familiarity, chemistry and trust that we have with Mr Loh, and the team spirit built up over the years helped us break those long-standing records.
‘Ours is a partnership which works. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?’