SEA Games 2015: What’s after the gold? // Lee Kai Yang

While the 2015 edition of the SEA Games mark its place in our nation’s history, I’m curious about what happens after the gold for our homegrown athletes. In this series, you’ll hear from some of our athletes on how they prepared themselves for the games, their thoughts and future plans.

Some fourteen years ago, he was competing with other schoolmates on who could lift up a canteen table with his single hand (Pretty much boyish things children at that age would do). Then later he became the primary school’s Head Prefect.

I don’t know very much of his other accomplishments after graduation. But he sure made it to the big screens.

Now, Lee Kai Yang is Singapore’s polo boy.

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(Photo: Adrian Seetho)

The great work put up at the games did not come with the click of their fingers.

Leading up to the games, the men’s water polo team trained at least once a day over the past year; twice on some days. As most of the team members have jobs or are full time students, training sessions of about 3 hours each were usually conducted at night. At the gym, it was a mixture of strength and conditioning. And in the pool, it was fitness and skills training.

A month before the games, the team went on a 13-day centralised training trip to Tsukuba, Japan. There, they sparred with local teams to test both their fitness and tactics. This allowed the team to simulate competition scenarios, learn to adapt and react to different situations in the game.

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During the competition, many things went on behind the scenes. Kai Yang commended the excellent support staff from the Singapore Sports Institute for all their help. The team worked closely with the physios, sports trainers, sports doctors and sports scientists from the institute.

They were there for them throughout the games, especially when some of the team members required medical attention to relieve existing injuries or to tape their muscles to prevent further injuries.

Video sessions to analyse past matches or games were also held with their sports scientists. Invaluable third party feedback was provided and the boys also reminded themselves of what to do and what not to do.  “Finally, our sports trainer took us through the warm up to ensure we’re well prepared for our game!” With all these factors, the team was able to go into each game focused and ready to compete at the highest level.

What are your meals like? Do you really just eat rabbit food everyday? (Heard there’s a strict diet for athletes!)

For the water polo boys, we aren’t too strict with our diet. The food at the games were excellent, although the variety of food got a bit mundane after a week of staying in the hotel; but don’t get me wrong, the food’s great. :)

On top of what’s catered at the games, our nutritionist has extra food specifically for us to aid in our recovery. They’re mainly convenient snacks which are high in carbohydrates and protein, such as muesli bars, canned tuna, isotonic drinks or UHT milk.

What were your first thoughts when you realised you got the GOLD?

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When the final whistle sounded and the OCBC Aquatic Centre erupted into a thunderous roar, I was delirious. My raw emotions of happiness and elation took over. I was jumping up and down in the water hugging my teammates.

It was really a special moment for us to be able to win in front of our family, friends and fellow Singaporeans. Ever since I started playing the sport, winning a SEA Games gold medal was all I wanted. It was definitely a dream come true.

Would you count the medal as a personal achievement, or a national achievement?

On a personal front, it definitely counts as an achievement for me because I worked very hard for this. The gold medal validates all the effort and sacrifices I put into the campaign.

On a national front, it is surely an achievement to have won every edition of the games since its inception in 1965. This achievement transcends that of the individual and the 13 in the pool.

Many people do not know this, but the Singapore Water Polo team is larger than the 13 competing. Before every games, the competition to be selected as the final 13 is stiff because everyone is hungry to compete. We encourage one another to push on at every training; this helped us to improve continuously.

This gold thus belongs to every team member of Singapore Water Polo, including those who narrowly missed out on their chance to play for Singapore this time, as much as it belongs to the 13 in the water. It’s a legacy that has stood strong through the generations – an achievement everyone can be proud of.

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What would you have done differently in hindsight? Any regrets or last thoughts on SEA Games 2015?

As sportmen, we are hardwired to give our all in the pool and leave no regrets. So I can say for sure that I have no regrets from these games. However, having said that, we know better than to rest on our laurels.

Not having any regrets does not mean that no mistakes were made, mistakes are inevitable. We will be sure to correct them as soon as possible. We are taking a short break and it’ll be back to the pool to start preparations for the next SEA Games. We must not allow complacency to set in.

What are your plans from now? (When do you think you’ll retire from the sport…?)

For me, this is just the beginning. I have not thought about when I will retire. All I know is that I’ll definitely be sticking around for a while.

Do you have any advice for future successors and budding athletes?

Everyone has a dream, but not many will make the sacrifices necessary to reach that dream. The hardest part is starting, but once you got that going you just need to keep reminding yourself of the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing.

No matter how many steps you take from there, every step you take is one step closer to fulfilling your dream.

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Kai Yang with his elder brother, Lee Kai Yu. Kai Yang’s water polo stint began in Raffles Institution after he was inspired by his brother to play the sport. His elder brother was also the national team’s goalkeeper at one point.

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Particularly heartening to me was what Kai Yang’s sister, Lee Yun Hui, wrote of a young Team Singapore supporter she met while supporting Kai Yang at the games. Here’s an excerpt:

“I told him perhaps one day I will be at the swimming pool supporting Caleb Chen. He was initially concerned because he is still using the board to swim, but I told him that my didi also used to swim with a board, and only started playing the sport at 13. He then decided that maybe one day he might play water polo for Singapore.

It could be just one of the many things one thinks of doing as a child, but we all start somewhere. More than gold medals, it is a beautiful thing to watch one generation inspire the next – for the young to see something they can relate to, and know that maybe, just maybe, they can get there too.

Surely, the dedication of their hardworking coaches and team manager cannot go unmentioned; all of them were former SEA Games gold medallists and they definitely understand what it means to preserve the tradition.

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“They were present every step of the way, helping in any way they can. Special mention goes to our head coach Lee Sai Meng who constantly reminds us to never be complacent and to continue improving.

He is the mastermind behind all the exhilarating plays executed at the games which resulted in our goals and eventual wins. He, together with the help of the staff from SSI, helped create a conducive environment for the team to succeed. And succeed we did!

Kudos to all our athletes for doing the nation proud, and for inspiring the young ones. If you missed out on the final action, be sure to catch it here.

Photos by Lee Yun Hui and Lee Kai Yang.

About the author

Mendi Ang

Mendi Ang is a young (patriotic) Singaporean student. Her musings can be gathered from her travel observations, chats with adorable old ice cream uncles and even your conversations on the train. Inspiration is all around.

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