Olympics: Soul-Searching As Australian Swimmers Sink

5 Aug

SYDNEY: There were recriminations and soul-searching in Australia Saturday about the much-vaunted swimming team’s single gold in the Olympic pool, with former coaches and stars blasting a lack of drive and unity.

With the London Games swimming events almost complete there was exhaustive press coverage of Australia’s failure to impress — bagging just one gold from a shock win in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay, five silver and two bronze.

Former Olympian Susie O’Neill, twice a gold medallist in the pool, blamed a lack of discipline compared to rivals from countries like China.

“What I’ve been hearing… is the work ethic from Australian swimmers is maybe not the same as it used to be 10 years ago,” O’Neill said.

“Talent gets you this far in an Olympics; work ethic gets you across the line… it’s one part talent, it’s four parts work ethic.”

Former head swimming coach Don Talbot said it would take four to eight years for Australia to reverse its plunge to what he described as a “mediocre swimming nation”, blaming a lack of individual drive and unity in the team.

“They seem to be too happy to accept the fact that they’re not doing well. In years gone by an athlete would come back and throw things around (if they missed out),” he said.

Talbot took aim at current chief coach Leigh Nugent as needing to “get tougher” with swimmers and their trainers, also blaming the exodus of Australian coaches to other countries and calling for a stronger team spirit.

“When the athletes are under stress they have to know they are all in the same boat. It brings them together,” he said.

James Magnussen had been expected to dominate the men’s 100m freestyle, coming into the event as the world champion and warning his rivals to brace themselves, only to be beaten in the final by 1/100th of a second.

It followed his sluggish performance in the opening lap of the 4x100m men’s freestyle relay, which saw the Australians finish fourth, despite being talked up as medal contenders.

Magnussen was well off his personal best times and his disappointing showing was compounded by a series of near-misses by team-mates faced with competitors from the dominant USA, China, France and surprise rivals such as South Africa.

Australia’s media warned it could be the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics that the once-mighty swim team left the Games without an individual gold, and a far cry from the heights of Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

Australia won five swimming golds at its home games in 2000, seven in 2004 and six in 2008, with swimming traditionally accounting for just under half of the country’s Olympic medal haul.

Sports Minister Kate Lundy said there would not be a “panicked response” if Australia finished well down the medal tally and warned the nation’s Olympic Committee not to automatically expect extra funding as a result.

“What I am interested in is a system that actually achieves results,” Lundy told The Weekend Australian newspaper.

“We have led the way and punched above our weight with (government) investment in the Australian Institute of Sport. We have now seen other countries catch up and the task I have before me is where do we next innovate?”

“It is not just about more money in a system that isn’t doing very much.”

– AFP/wm

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Olympics: Phelps Bids Goodbye With 18th Gold Medal

5 Aug

LONDON: Michael Phelps said goodbye with an 18th Olympic gold medal Saturday, the US men remaining unbeaten in the 4x100m medley relay on a last record-setting night of swimming at the London Aquatics Centre.

In what he has vowed was his final race, the four-time Olympian took his career medals tally to 22 – including the epic eight gold he won in Beijing four years ago.

China’s Sun Yang offered a worthy curtain-raiser to Phelps’ finale as he shrugged off a heart-in-mouth moment at the start to destroy the field and win the 1,500m freestyle gold in a world record time, while America’s 4x100m medley women also won in a world record.

As so often, however, Phelps was the focus.

Breaststroke star Kosuke Kitajima had given Japan a narrow lead when Phelps dived in for the butterfly leg of the men’s relay.

Takeshi Matsuda maintained the lead at the 50m mark of the fly, but Phelps delivered a classic final lap to seize the lead for the Americans and 100m free gold medallist Nathan Adrian was untouchable in sealing the victory in 3:29.35.

Sun shook off a heart-in-mouth moment at the start, when he slipped and hit the water as the other swimmers stood up before the start.

He wasn’t charged with a false start that would have ended his night, and after the public address announcer instructed the crowd to maintain silence, a seemingly shaken Sun joined the rest of the field in returning to the blocks and powered to a win in 14:31.02, bettering the previous world record he set last year at the world championships in Shanghai.

“I thought I was going to be disqualified,” admitted Sun, who said he couldn’t hear the starter properly over the crowd noise. “I didn’t expect the false start and I was very worried about being disqualified.”

Once away, Sun was never challenged as he became the seventh man, and the first since Russian distance freestyle great Vladimir Salnikov in 1980, to win both the 400m free and 1500m free at the same Olympics.

Sun’s triumph in the 400m free last Saturday made him the first male swimmer from China to claim Olympic gold and he earned silver in the 200m free.

Sun beat the water in joy, then covered his face as he broke down in tears before exiting the pool as he followed up on the world title he won by breaking Australian Grant Hackett’s 10-year-old world mark in the event last year.

More than eight seconds back, Canadian Ryan Cochrane took silver in 14:39.63 and Beijing champion Oussama Mellouli earned bronze in 14:40.31.

The US quartet of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt won the women’s 4x100m medley relay in a world record of 3:52.05.

Franklin, 17, claimed her fourth gold of the Games as part of the formidable line-up. She, Vollmer and Soni had all set individual world records here.

Australia took silver in 3:54.02 and Japan claimed the bronze in 3:55.73.

Dutch speedster Ranomi Kromowidjojo posted an Olympic record of 24.05sec to win the women’s 50m free, completing a 50m-100m freestyle double ahead of Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus (24.28) and Dutch team-mate Marleen Veldhuis (24.39).

– AFP/de

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Olympics: China Buries Badminton Scandal With Golds

5 Aug

LONDON: China recovered from the expulsion of its top seeds in a match-throwing scandal on Saturday when Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing won the Olympic women’s doubles, as Li Xuerui also took women’s singles gold.

Zhao and Tian beat Japanese fourth seeds Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa 21-10, 25-23 for the doubles gold, underlining their strength in depth after world number one pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were kicked out this week.

Despite the controversy, which also involved players from South Korea and Indonesia, and drew a public apology from China’s head coach Li Yongbo, China are now on course for the first sweep of all five badminton titles.

Zhao also won the mixed doubles on Friday with her boyfriend, Zhang Nan, making her the first player to win two badminton titles at the same Olympics – an achievement that left her in floods of tears.

Later, she said the expulsions – which prompted the angry Yu’s immediate retirement – had spurred the Chinese team to win all five golds. Just the men’s singles and men’s doubles remain.

“As athletes we can’t allow ourselves to be upset, we have to focus on what we do,” she said, before being asked if the throwing scandal had motivated China.

“Yes I believe so, because the Chinese team is a great team. If it is challenged it is encouraged to turn it into something positive,” said Zhao.

Meanwhile, China’s Li stunned world number one Wang Yihan 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 to win the women’s singles title, leaving her team-mate in tears on the podium.

“Of course winning the gold medal is an exciting moment, but the glory should not be owned by myself alone but by the team,” said Li.

“Together with my team-mate, we performed quite brilliantly and gave the crowd an exciting match.”

Li was a last-minute choice in the Olympic squad over former world number one Wang Shixian, after she won the the All-England Open in March.

She was soon 12-7 and 15-8 ahead, moving better than her opponent, and reacting quicker in the flat, mid-court exchanges. Wang worked hard to get back into it and saved a match point in the second game.

The world champion went 9-5 up in the decider but Li hit back with seven points and built a four-point lead. Then, despite being pegged back to 17-17, she had the guile and variety to close it out.

Separately, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to earn an Olympic medal when China’s world number one Wang Xin went off injured and in tears from their bronze medal play-off.

Wang was leading 21-18, 1-0 when she was forced to quit after twice collapsing to the court with a knee injury. After the second fall, she was barely able to stand.

“She was taking on water and asking for the court to be mopped and I could tell she was getting tired,” Nehwal said.

“When she sat down I thought it was all part of getting tired, but it wasn’t. And it was very sad what happened.”

In the women’s doubles, European champions Nina Vislova and Valeria Sorokina of Russia took advantage of the decimated field to win the bronze medal match 21-9, 21-10 against Alex Bruce and Michele Lee of Canada.

“We concentrated on not thinking about that match and especially not to think about why it happened,” Sorokina said. “Instead we had to concentrate on our game and on our opponents, and I think we did the right thing.”

On Sunday, China’s world number one Lin Dan will play his Malaysian rival Lee Chong Wei in the men’s final and Chinese pair Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng will play Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen in the doubles title match.

– AFP/de

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Jazreel Low’s Back In “Taxi Taxi!”

5 Aug

SINGAPORE: When people talk about Jazreel Low, they usually talk about how she was a model before she went into acting, after she became the second runner-up in the very first Star Search in 1988.

What they

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Build A Sustainable Population To Keep Singapore Vibrant: DPM Teo

5 Aug

SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that Singapore must ensure that it has a sustainable population to face future challenges.

Mr Teo said as a small country, Singapore faces many uncertainties and emphasised the need for residents to remain united to overcome such challenges.

“This is the way that we have been able to make progress, in our four to five decades of history as an independent country,” he said.

“We continue to face big challenges for the future, and one of the big challenges we have for the future is how to build a sustainable population for ourselves. Our population is slowly ageing and eventually, over the next 15 years or so, will even start to shrink.”

“Having a sustainable population is one of the most important things for the future because it will help to keep our country and our people vibrant, alive, lively and one of the most exciting cities in the world,” he added.

Mr Teo also highlighted the importance of building a sustainable population.

“(We have to) help to make sure that our population continues to remain sustainable so that we can continue to have a stable Singapore for the future,” he said.

“(We have to have) people to look after our elderly, a country and economy that’s growing, and also very importantly, a place where young people, your children and your grand children, will want to make their home because there are exciting things going on, interesting jobs, cutting-edge opportunities and also many interesting things to do in their free time, in their leisure. And also, a very good place to bring up children.

“So there are many things we need to do for the future. And having a sustainable population is one of the most important things for the future because it will help to keep our country and our people vibrant, alive, lively and one of the most exciting cities in the world.”

Mr Teo was speaking to some at a National Day Observance Ceremony held at Elias Park Primary School on Saturday morning.

About 1,000 members of the Pasir Ris West Grassroots Organisation, teachers and students from schools and kindergartens in the area attended the event.

Around 300 took part in a community parade, comprising contingents ranging from uniformed groups to senior citizens.

Deputy Prime Minister and Advisor to Pasir Ris-Punggol Grassroots Organisation Mr Teo Chee Hean inspected the parade as the Guest of Honour.

Guests were also treated to cultural performances, including a Silat or Malay martial arts performance and Chinese orchestra pieces, to celebrate Singapore’s multi-racial, multi-religious society.

– CNA/wm

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Olympics: Pistorius Makes History, Bolt Wins On Comeback

5 Aug

LONDON: South African Oscar Pistorius made Olympic history on Saturday while Jamaica’s Usain Bolt reached the 100m second round as he bids to seal his own place in Olympic legend.

Pistorius became the first double amputee to compete in an Olympic athletics event and had double joy as he qualified for the 400m semi-finals in front of his 89-year-old grandmother.

Bolt, who broke both the 100m and 200m world records in winning the Olympic titles four years ago, had not run since last month because of a back problem and there had been question marks over his fitness coming into the Games.

Pistorius, who had competed in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics, finished second in his heat running on his carbon fibre blades and said he had realised a dream.

“It’s just an experience to be here. It’s a dream come true,” said Pistorius, who ran a season’s best of 45.44 seconds.

“I was so nervous this morning. I didn’t know whether to cry. I had a mixture of emotions.”

Pistorius said it was mainly thanks to his mother Sheila, who died when he was 15, that he had persisted with fulfilling his dream.

“She always said the loser isn’t the person that gets involved and comes last but it’s the person that doesn’t get involved in the first place.”

Bolt’s habit of making a bad start – something that cost him dearly at the world championships last year when he was disqualified for a false start in the 100m final – reared its head again in the heats.

He stumbled out of the blocks but then sauntered across the line in 10.09sec, nowhere near the 9.88sec of American Ryan Bailey, whose time was the fastest ever in an Olympic 100m heat.

“I’m feeling good, my legs are feeling good so I’m happy with that,” said 25-year-old Bolt.

“My training is good. I’m feeling back, so I’m happy.”

Elsewhere, defending Olympic champions suffered differing fortunes as Russian pole vault great Yelena Isinbayeva qualified with ease for the final.

However, 400m champion LaShawn Merritt bowed out after pulling up in his heat with a suspected hamstring injury.

“This was my life’s race,” said the dejected 26-year-old.

Ukraine’s heptathlon queen Natallia Dobrynska, who did well to even compete here after her husband and coach Dmitry Polyakov died of cancer in March, was already out of contention when she retired after a disastrous long jump.

Her crown looks all but set to be taken by British pin-up Jessica Ennis as she leads by a commanding margin going into Saturday evening’s final event, the 800 metres.

The home crowd may have even more cause to cheer as 10,000 metres world champion Mo Farah goes for gold, bidding to deprive Ethiopia’s increasingly injury-prone two-time Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele of a third successive gold.

– AFP/de

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S’poreans Have To Be Prudent & Realistic About Their Financial Means: Khaw

5 Aug

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said given the existing financial climate, Singaporeans need to be prudent.

In buying houses, for an example, he said Singaporeans should buy within their means.

He made these points at the National Day Observance Ceremony in Sembawang GRC.

Singaporeans, especially second-time flat buyers, can count on the government to address their concerns.

Mr Khaw said he’s quite happy with progress made over the past one year.

He said first-time home buyers are now able to apply for a Build-to-Order (BTO) flat in a non-mature estate with relative ease.

“So now this year, I’ll be focusing on second-time (home buyers) and improve their chances. So the recent BTO, I’m looking at the subscription rates day by day and it’s quite healthy, but we will press on to build more to satisfy Singaporeans’ demand to catch up on the deficit in the last few years,” he explained.

He also stressed that Singaporeans should be realistic about their financial means.

“There’re now some gimmicks coming along, some banks offering 50 years’ (loan) so please don’t fall for that. It doesn’t make sense.

“If you want to immediately come out from school and want to get a five-room flat and think that a 50-year loan will help you achieve that, I don’t think that is very wise.”

And Mr Khaw said it’s a “good sign” that only very few people have opted for the 50-year loan.

“So I’ve been checking how many people take up this 50-year loan; as far as I gather, the number is very few, which I think is a good sign.”

Mr Khaw points out that Singaporeans should be realistic about their financial means.

“If your salary allows you to buy a three-room flat, buy a three-room flat. In 10 years’ time, if you continue to work hard, I’m sure your salary will grow, and then you can upgrade.

“Then by that time if Singapore economy is doing well, your three-room flat will fetch a better price, so with the improvement in the price of your three-room (flat) you can then upgrade.”

In conjunction with the National Day Observance Ceremony, Mr Khaw also launched a new resident patrol week in the constituency.

The programme will have more than 230 volunteers spreading fire safety messages for a week, starting 1 to 9 August, every year.

Sembawang GRC has one of the highest rates of public residential fires.

But with efforts targeting the problem, the numbers have slipped to 74 – from 80 in the previous quarter.

On a national scale, more than 800 public residential fires were reported from January to March this year.

This is about 60 cases more than last quarter.

– CNA/ck

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