38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport | MANILA: It’s been a wait that has spanned close to four decades, but in the space of just two days, underwater hockey player Christina Tham has finall

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport

38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport
38 years after her first SEA Games, this former Singapore swimmer finally strikes gold in a different sport
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MANILA: It’s been a wait that has spanned close to four decades, but in the space of just two days, underwater hockey player Christina Tham has finally struck gold - not once, but twice.

“Victory felt unbelievable,” Tham told CNA after winning her first gold on Wednesday (Dec 4). 

“Winning the (first) gold in the third SEA Games after winning two silvers - unbelievable.”

A former national swimmer, she represented Singapore at the 1981 SEA Games, aged 12, and the next Games two years later.

At her first Games, she claimed a silver in the 4x100 medley relay and followed that up with a silver in the 200m breaststroke in 1983. 

But a gold eluded her until 36 years later, when Singapore claimed victory in the women’s underwater hockey 4x4 competition on Wednesday.

“It feels incredible, awesome, unbelievable. I don’t know if anyone else has done or is doing what I’m doing,” said Tham, now 50.

“I hope that it also sends a message out to everyone that age is really just a number and that you are only as old as you feel.”

READ: Double SEA Games gold for Singapore as men's and women's underwater hockey teams beat Philippines

She would follow up the 4x4 gold with another one in the 6x6 event on Thursday as Singapore beat Philippines 3-0.

Tham was fresh off completing her Primary School Leaving Examinations when she competed in her first Games in Manila.

“I made it to the team because I was the fastest breaststroker in Singapore,” recalled Tham.

“I was in awe of the then golden girl Junie Sng. We stayed - all of us - in the same dormitory in the Games village.”

Two years later, Tham competed in front of her home crowd at the 1983 Games.

“When you’re on home ground, the stakes become a lot higher,” she said. “I was swimming, and swimming is one of those sports which are expected to always push up the medal tally. All eyes are on it.”

It was not till 2005 that Tham picked up underwater hockey, after reading an advertisement in a local newspaper.

“I decided to pick it up because it would leverage on my swimming ability plus it would challenge me in a team sport, as opposed to an individual sport,” she explained.

“I think it’s usually quite difficult for individual sportspeople to go into a team sport and I wanted to do that because I felt that in life, it’s really about getting success by learning to work with people. 

“There’s that saying that if you want to go fast, you go on your own, but if you want to go long, then you go with your team.”

Despite being a swimmer, picking up underwater hockey was not simple, she explained. 

“Making the transition is actually not very easy - as hard as swimming is - all those laps and all those hours going to the gym, underwater hockey was really difficult to pick up,” she said.

“It has taken many years of refining the skill because it’s really a combination of fitness - both aerobic and anaerobic, as well as skills ... speed teamwork, knowing how each of your other teammate plays so that you can just predict the move and follow up that move.”

This is the first time the sport has featured in the SEA Games, and Tham called it a “dream come true” to be able to compete in the Philippines.

“It was absolutely awesome when we found out that underwater hockey would feature in this Games. It was like a dream come true - I always wanted underwater hockey to be in SEA Games,” she said. 

“We have played underwater hockey in the world championships but, I think, to get the recognition of the SNOC for this sport was something that I thought was a dream and would not happen.

“And when it did happen, nothing would stop us from working hard to compete in it and to get the gold.”

Prior to returning to the Philippines, Tham - who is the oldest member of the women’s underwater hockey side - would get stunned reactions from most when told she would be competing at the Games again.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the reactions is one of incredulity. People take a while to get it, that I’m actually doing this,” Tham, who works as a lawyer, said. 

“My company Cromwell Property Group has been very supportive of my time away training. My family, my mum - she’s still the swimmer’s mum - asking questions like how swimmers’ parents do. 

“My husband, of course, is incredibly proud of me and all my old swimmer friends are just so stoked.”

The competition gave Tham an opportunity to test herself. 

“Last year when I knew I was going to turn 50 this year, I wanted to prove to myself that I’m still fit, I’m still strong and I thought that there’s no better benchmark than to compete at the SEA Games in a very tough sport like underwater hockey,” she said. 

“I’m so stoked that my level of fitness and my level of speed is very high, can’t really tell much of a difference between now and say, 10 years ago. But I would the recovery time is a little bit longer.”

She is also hoping that the win will raise the profile of the sport in Singapore. 

“I hope everybody in Singapore now knows what underwater hockey is about,” she explained.

“And I hope we can get more support for the sport because you will not believe how much work, hard work, all of us have made, how much sacrifices all of us have made to get the gold.”

Having now won gold twice, Tham counts herself “third time lucky”.

“I’m really, really just over the moon, getting this gold, being able to go back to Singapore, go back to my office, go back to my family, my friends, to show them the fruits of the hard work that myself and my team have reaped,” she said.

“Coming on to this Games, my hockey mates were teasing me, saying that maybe I would be third time lucky.

“Indeed, I have been third time lucky.”

Football: Watford can avoid relegation with an English coach, says Foster

Football: Watford can avoid relegation with an English coach, says Foster

LONDON: Watford can improve their performances and avoid relegation from the Premier League if they appoint an English head coach to take over from the sacked Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, goalkeeper Ben Foster has said.

Watford fired Flores on Sunday less than three months into his second spell with the club after he led them to one win in 10 league matches, leaving them at the bottom of the standings and seven points away from the safety zone.

Foster believes the squad's English core can benefit from an English coach's pragmatism after failing to earn wins under Flores and his Spanish predecessor Javi Gracia, whose sides attempted to play expansive football.

"I think the fact that we have got an English core of players - the spine of the team is English ... It would suit us massively," Foster was quoted as saying by the London Evening Standard.

"The only way we are going to get out of the trouble we are in at the minute is by fight and grit and determination, and being dirty and clever, using your nous a bit more.

"The confidence is so low at the minute ... all that poppy, lovely football, it's not an option at the minute because the lads aren't able to do it mentally."

Since Sean Dyche's departure in 2012 when the Pozzo family took over ownership of the club, 10 managers have come and gone - including Flores twice - none of whom were English.

Under-23 coach Hayden Mullins was in the dugout for Watford's 2-0 defeat by Leicester City on Wednesday and Foster said the 40-year-old's methods were a breath of fresh air.

"He is brilliant," Foster, 36, added. "I don't know if he is going to be the man or what, but I can only tell you from my perspective and the other lads at the minute, it has been an enjoyable week.

"Hayden has been great ... a typical English coach. I think that's exactly what you need as well."

Watford host Crystal Palace in the league on Saturday.

Filipino workers flock to leave crisis-hit Lebanon

Filipino workers flock to leave crisis-hit Lebanon

BEIRUT: Hundreds of Filipinos, most of them female domestic workers, flocked to their embassy in Lebanon on Thursday (Dec 5) to sign up for free repatriation from the crisis-hit country.

The embassy issued a statement linking its offer of a free ticket home to Lebanon's free-falling economy.

"More than 1,000 Filipinos, mostly women with some children in tow, arrived in droves to the Philippine embassy in Beirut to register for free mass repatriation scheduled in February next year," a statement said.

A estimated quarter of a million domestic workers live in Lebanon, in conditions that have repeatedly been condemned by their countries of origin and rights group.

A sponsorship system known as "kafala" leaves maids, nannies and carers outside the remit of Lebanon's labour law, and at the mercy of their employers.

Cases of abuses are reported regularly, with workers often unable to obtain their rights or even flee because all their money and travel documents are held by their employers.

Hailing mostly from the Philipines, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, some make as little as US$150 a month.

The Lebanese pound's tumbling value on the black market in recent weeks has led many employers to pay their domestic workers in the local currency.

Others have been fired by employers who can no longer afford their services, leaving foreign workers stranded in Lebanon with no income.

The embassy statement said that some workers "have recently lost jobs and income opportunities during these trying times in Lebanon."

Mohanna Ishak, a lawyer with the Kafa NGO that assists domestic workers, said that the severe economic downturn risked leading to more abuses.

"The financial and psychological stress the Lebanese are under risks have repercussions on domestic workers," she said, saying they their salaries may go unpaid or they could face "more verbal and physical violence."

Lebanon has been rocked by seven weeks of an unprecedented protest movement demanding an end to corruption and the wholesale removal of the current political elite.

The campaign to abolish the "kafala" system has been widely supported by protesters.

Significant regulatory delays on 737 MAX grounding could force Boeing to halt production: letter

Significant regulatory delays on 737 MAX grounding could force Boeing to halt production: letter

SEATTLE: Significant additional regulatory requirements or delays in returning the 737 MAX to commercial service could cause Boeing Co to cut or temporarily halt 737 MAX production, the U.S. planemaker said in a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The U.S. planemaker said it does not expect 737 MAX order cancellations due to the grounding of its best-selling single-aisle jet after deadly crashes to have a material impact on revenues or earnings because of the size of 737 order backlog and management's ability to mitigate potential impacts by shifting planned customer delivery dates, Boeing said in the letter, dated October 18.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle)

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