In a far corner of the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, a national record was being silently and seriously challenged.
While most of the 100 spectators fixed their eyes on the men’s 200-metre race at the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) Track and Field Series Four yesterday, pole vaulters Chan Sheng Yao and Edwin Chong contemplated the 4.83-metre barrier in front of them.
Sheng Yao came agonisingly close in his second attempt, looking clear of the bar until his upper body nicked it on the way down.
Chong, cutting a more relaxed figure, did not fare much better as he struggled to handle an unfamiliar, lengthier pole.
In the end, after three attempts, both failed to rewrite the record of 4.82m set by Sheng Yao at the 53rd National Inter- School Championships in April.
They shared first place at the Series, both clearing 4.60 metres. Aaron Koh took bronze with 4.40m.
Despite missing the record, neither Chong nor Sheng Yao was too perturbed.
After all, both had already qualified for this year’s SEA Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, from Dec 11 to 22.
“This was just practice,” said Chong, 25, who qualified for the Games with a 4.70m clearance during the Under-23/Open meet last October.
“I haven’t been training much since January because of my exams. So this was just a comeback. Clearing 4.60m this time around is fine with me.”
His coach, Ng Kean Mun, explained that Chong, who bagged the bronze medal at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia with 4.70m, was not physically up to the mark yet.
Said Ng: “Edwin returned to training only last week. He also hasn’t used a longer pole in training recently. So, he was getting used to that.
“Whether he’s a contender for a SEA Games medal this year will depend on the next six months.”
Chong will leave for the US in August to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon Chong and Sheng Yao fail to better national record, but confident of improvement University.
He and his coach are anxious to find a suitable training site during his time there.
“I have to aim for a higher mark at the Games because competition will be stiff,” Chong said.
“While I’m in the US, I’ll just have to find a place to train or find (an athletics) club to join… I’ll find a way.”
Sheng Yao, 17, will not have too many distractions as he prepares for his first SEA Games.
The Hwa Chong Institution student is set to take part in July’s World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine.
In the meantime, while he failed to better his personal best yesterday, he is optimistic that more training in the coming months should get him up a higher pole.
“The June holidays will be a good opportunity for me to train and get better,” he said,
“I actually qualified for the SEA Games two years ago but was under the age to compete.
“To get a medal in Myanmar will be tough, because the athletes from Thailand and Indonesia are all clearing around 5 metres.