Going into the final day of the Optimist Asian and Oceanian Championship, Singapore sailor Ethan Chia was four points behind his Southeast Asian counterpart Chanatip Tongglum, the top Asian sailor in the fleet of 157. With four races left on Saturday, the Secondary 1 student from Raffles Institution knew that he would have to be at his best to stand a chance of winning. But even though chances of a comeback seemed slim after the first two races as he finished 20th and eighth respectively, the 13-year-old refused to give up. His perseverance paid off as he came in fifth and 12th in his final two races to secure his title as the top Asian sailor at the regatta in Abu Dhabi with 43 net points, four fewer than Chanatip, who had placed 31st and fourth in the final two races.
“I’m happy because it was quite hard and I had to push on at the end because on the last day, I was losing but I managed to persevere and beat him in the end,” said Ethan, who is the first Singaporean gold medallist in the event since 2017, when Muhammad Daniel Kei Yazid retained his title.
“This competition was quite hard and I really had to persevere and not give up at the end when I was losing.” The teenager, who won the mixed Optimist silver with Cheryl Yong at the Cambodia SEA Games in May, was pleased to finally get the better of his friend Chanatip. The Thai had won the SEA Games gold in May with Patcharaphan Ongkaloy, who was the third-ranked Asian in Abu Dhabi. At the 2022 edition in Mumbai, Ethan had led initially before eventually finishing behind champion Chanatip. Hence, he was determined to make amends.
He said: “When I was losing, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t give up because I still had a few more races left that could really make a big change and I had a lot of motivation from the rest of the team which helped me persevere.”
He said that he lacked the focus to hold on to his lead a year ago but has since gained exposure and experience in the past year, which he believes gave him the confidence that led to victory. The presence of European sailors in the regatta also pushed Ethan, who finished fifth in the overall standings. Italy’s Mattia di Martino was top with 23 net points.
“I wanted to beat them,” said Ethan, who wants to try and win the Optimist world championships in the future.
“Because in the last Asians, it would just be me and him fighting but now we have sailors and opponents from Europe.” Singapore Sailing’s national Optimist head coach Sherman Cheng was proud of Ethan’s performance in Abu Dhabi, saying: “He was consistent all week and showed great determination, especially in the tough moments.
“The championship decider went all the way down to the last moments of the last race, and his maturity in managing the races was what won him the title.”
He also noted how Ethan’s teammates rallied behind him and was happy with how the team did at the regatta. In the Team Racing Asia event, Ethan, Sean Kum, Zeph Wan, Lucas Cao, and Nathaniel Cheung clinched silver, with Thailand taking home gold and the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia claiming bronze.
“We are in the process of rebuilding the next generation of Optimist sailors, and we were probably one of the youngest teams here,” said Cheng of their squad, which has an average age of 12.8 years.
“To go home with a gold medal for the individual championships and a silver in the team event is a reward for all the hard work the sailors have put in, and it gives us confidence and motivation moving forward.”
as reported by Kimberly Lim on ST Online