Ex-world champ: Start young to revive Singapore athletics

Ex-world champ: Start young to revive Singapore athletics
SERIOUS ABOUT RUNNING: Jennifer Simpson (centre) conducting her practical session with local runners at the Kallang Practice Track yesterday.

If a country is serious about reviving track and field, then it has to invest in youth.

It is what US middle-distance star Jennifer Simpson believes Singapore must do, as it gears up to host the South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil for the first time in 22 years next June.

Singapore Athletic Association chief Tang Weng Fei has targeted a six-gold haul next year, a bold ambition considering the feat has been achieved on only two other occasions - at the 1969 and 1973 Games, when the country was a force in track and field.

In contrast, the sport has yielded just five gold medals in total over the last three SEA Games (in 2007, 2009 and 2011).

Simpson, who tasted glory in the 1,500m at the 2011 Track and Field World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, is in town as part of her New Balance Asia Tour. She arrived from Hong Kong on Tuesday night, and will leave for Tokyo on Sunday.

Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of a practical session with local runners at the Kallang Practice Track yesterday, the 28-year-old said: "The best thing I've received from sports and athletics is a strong sense of self-worth, so I think that's what you have to do.

"I think when we invest in young people and show them there's value in their achievements, no matter what level it may be, they then carry that and turn it into a high-level pursuit of athletics.

"Not everyone's going to be a world champion, but by investing in young people, celebrating their achievements and encouraging them to dream bigger, you could find that champion."

Earlier, in a sharing session at the Singapore Sports Institute, Simpson said a tour of the facilities there convinced her Singapore could produce a runner like her.

She added that studies were not an excuse, even for a nation that values academic excellence.

The two-time Olympian said: "I double-majored in political science and economics, and it was really hard.

"It took a lot of hard choices and a lot of sacrifice to prioritise school and running, but it can be done.

"Someone told me once that there are three areas of life people invest in: their academic life, their sporting life and their social life. And you can only pick two of the three.

"And it's true, I don't see my family often, I don't go out at night, so you do have to make choices.

"But the choices I've made, I'm grateful for, and I'd make them over and over again."


This article was first published on October 2, 2014.
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