After 10 Years Off, Star Burmese Sailors Return to the Sea

By Nyein Nyein 20 December 2013

NGWE SAUNG, Irrawaddy Division — The winners of the yachting competition at the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) will be announced at a ceremony Friday evening, with athletes from six countries contesting medals for 13 classes of races.

On Thursday, Burma officially took the gold medal for the half-rater class, in which sailors use boats made from wood rather than metal. This style of yachting is classified as a traditional sport in the host country.

Among the leaders of the Burmese squad were Phone Kyaw Moe Myint and Sithu Moe Myint, both sons of Moe Myint, chief of the Myanmar Yachting Federation. Earlier this week, before the big win, The Irrawaddy caught up with Phone Kyaw Moe Myint at the Ngwe Saung Yacht Club, which was built at a cost of 15 billion kyats (US$16.7 million) along with accommodation for the athletes. He explained how he started sailing as a child and took 10 years off, what it was like to return to the sport, and who his main competitors were during the races this week.

Question: How did you prepare for the Games?

Answer: We have worked hard to take part in this competition. My brother and I won the gold medal in 2001 [at the Southeast Asia Games in Malaysia]. We continued the following year at the Asian Games in Korea in 2002, but after that we stopped sailing. We took 10 years off and then started training again in 2012. We did not compete in any international contests during this period, but we managed to come in first place at the pre-SEA Games contest in April this year, here at Ngwe Saung. Singapore and Australia also came to this preview contest. It was a hard test, but we made it.

Q: What’s it like coming back to the sport after 10 years off?

A: My brother and I have been sailing since childhood, when we were 8 or 9 years old. But after taking a 10-year break, we had to start from the beginning. When we look at our competitors, they always use a different kind of boat, not this [half-rater] kind. We trained a lot, and even though we had experience, we had to try our best.

Q: When was your first international competition?

A: In 1996 we took part in the world championships in South Africa. When we earned the gold medal in 2001, I was 16 and my brother was 19.

Q: What do you expect now, at the Games this week?

A: We will try our best to win. Surely we will get gold. But there are more races to contest—I do not know what will happen, because the results also depend on weather.

Q: On the second day of races, Thailand was on your heels. Who are your main competitors?

A: Singapore and Thailand will fight us for gold, but I do not know for sure.

Q: Have any of your competitors complained about the half-rater class, which is included as a Burmese traditional sport?

A: No, because half-rater is a double-handed race, and this type of boat is very simple compared to other types. The main difference is weight—it’s about 330 to 360 kilograms. Other boats are not that heavy. But any sailor can sail on this boat. We had to draw lots for boats before we started—we could not choose the one we liked most. So we sailed our best.