Asian Games: Unannounced star shines at opening ceremony

Asian Games: Unannounced star shines at opening ceremony
Singapore's athletes led by flagbearer Gary Yeo Ee Foowave as they take part in their delegation parade during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Asian Games at the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium in Incheon on September 19, 2014.

INCHEON, South Korea - Look past the fireworks, the flashing lights and meandering stories told at the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium last night and it very quickly became clear that besides the over-arching theme of unity, the Asian Games opening ceremony was about hopes and dreams and youthful inspiration.

Little rhythmic gymnast Kim Juwan was featured against seasoned golfers Pak Se Ri, Park Inbee, and other South Korean icons, telling a tale of where it starts, and where it can get you.

But on stage, on show - but perhaps unseen - was the one element that turns the run-of-the-mill into the rare and remarkable, even audacious and daring.

Decked in the red and white of the Maldives, she started to groove to the music as the stream of athletes marched past.

An athlete no doubt, for she learnt the moves quickly, and soon her foot stepped in sync with the line of performers in front of her, her swaying hips eclipsing theirs.

The woman, danced because she wanted to - because she dared.

And soon, her countrymen followed suit, nine of them in a row, alongside the performers. We don't know her name - yet - but her attitude is familiar.

Among the 224 athletes in the Singapore contingent, there are veterans driven to achieve, youngsters starting to dream, and they are those who dare.

Joseph Schooling won silver in the 100 metres butterfly at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games with a time of 51.69 seconds, the fastest on the continent this year.

He will now test himself against Asia's best, but his dream is a bigger one.

"The Asian Games will be used as a stepping stone in leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics," said the University of Texas freshman, dreaming a dream few Singaporeans have.

On that road to Rio de Janeiro, Asia's finest will do battle first.

Schooling said: "It will be a good opportunity to see where I stand against Asia's best, and although the times at the Commonwealth Games were good, I have to remain focused - hopefully that will bring glory to Singapore."

Shuttler Derek Wong also won silver in Glasgow, and while the singles gold eluded him, he won something that will hold him in good stead here - confidence.

No Fear

"Several of the world's top 20 are here at the Asian Games, but no, there's no fear," he said, tie hanging coolly loose around his neck.

"You have to dream big. The draw (for the competition) hasn't been done yet, and if I face (China's) Lin Dan or (Malaysia's) Lee Chong Wei in the first round, I'll have less chance of going through," he said.

Then smiling, he added: "But only a little less than if I met somebody else."

It may have been tongue in cheek, but it hints of a man ready to beak free of the limits he sets on himself.

Then there is Tao Li.

The 24-year-old has struck gold at the last two Asiads in the 50m butterfly, but her streak may not last longer.

Before leaving for Incheon, she told The New Paper that this could well be her last Asiad, but it would take a brave man to bet against a character like Tao Li, her current uninspiring form notwithstanding.

"The mental aspect of preparation is the most important part of my preparation, because I need to make sure that I'm relaxed leading up to the race... and mentally pumped up when I report for the event," she said.

Witnessing these characters first hand will be youngsters like 12-year-old sailor Raynn Kwok, who will already feel some sort of pressure.


"He went through the selection trials and won fair and square, and should do well here," said sailing team manager Terence Koh of his young upstart.

Alongside the Maldivian athlete-dancer, the Korean performers, who were limp and dragging their feet before, were suddenly bouncing with life and punching the air with a renewed verve at the opening ceremony last night.

Hopefully, like them, Kwok and the rest of Singapore's young ones will follow in the footsteps - and dancesteps - of those who dare.

This article was first published on September 20, 2014.
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