Joscelin Yeo glitters gold

Joscelin Yeo glitters gold
Joscelin Yeo, owner of a SEA Games mark that may never be eclipsed, dishes out advice to our athletes.

Much of Joscelin Yeo's life has been about noise, of the alarm clock shrilling at an ungodly hour, of the splash and churn of white water, of air travel and the Olympics and Asian Games, of stadium announcers and coaches' instructions, criticism, fans reaction, media questions and the Majulah Singapura.

She raised Singapore's anthem on 40 occasions over seven South-east Asia (SEA) Games, she became the event's greatest winning machine in 2005 in Manila when she won her final event - the 50m freestyle.

That swim eclipsed countrywoman Patricia Chan's mark of 39 golds, and to understand Yeo's accomplishment is to say that her mark may well stand the test of time.

She is to the SEA Games what 11-time champion Bill Russell is to the NBA.

Yeo left competitive swimming after the 2006 Asian Games but there's still little silence in her life, because today there is a hustle and bustle of a different kind.

"I still live with a lot of noise now, the noise comes from my three boys," said the wife and mother of three-and-a-half-year-old Sean Christopher Purcell, David Benjamin Purcell, who will be two in May, and two-month-old Michael Joseph Purcell.

"I think once you move past that season, you're past it. You just embrace the new season of life, right.

"While I was swimming, it was definitely exciting times in my life, memorable times in my life. It groomed me as a swimmer, it shaped me as a person in different ways, when you have to deal with success and when you have to deal with failure.

"That was a big part of my life."

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She is the region's greatest gold medal champion and The New Paper picked Yeo as the "Cover Athlete" in the kick off to our 50-day countdown to the 28th SEA Games, to be held here in June.

The 35-year-old is now the Singapore Swimming Association's vice-president (swimming) and is well-placed to give some insight on the team that are set to make a splash at the OCBC Aquatic Centre at the Sports Hub.

I met Yeo earlier in the week and wondered if she had already pictured the moment when it all begins, as she watches from the stands, instead of swimming.

She said: "When I see our guys stand up on the blocks in front of the home crowd, I know there will really be a sense of excitement for them because swimming in front of your home crowd is something that is very special.

"It's not just, 'Ah, I'm competing'.

"You are competing in front of your nation, everybody is behind you, cheering for you, it's just a very exciting time.

"It makes your skin tingle."

Singapore swimming has consistently dominated in the SEA Games pool and, with the likes of Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Tao Li in the mix, much is expected of this year's team.

"Our swimmers are doing well. They've shown in the last few meets that we can medal in almost every single event at the SEA Games," said Yeo.

"More important than what the SSA thinks is for them to come together as a team and tell us what they expect of themselves, and what goal they want to set for themselves.

"And let them support one another through that."

She brushed off the suggestion of a different kind of pressure at home, as one would expect of someone who faced it regularly since she first started competing as a 12-year-old at the 1991 Games, when she bagged two silvers and three bronze medals.

"As an athlete, there is always going to be pressure and this is the time to rise up to the challenge and give it everything," she said. "It's not just me versus them, it's us against them.

"Stay in the moment, trust your training and go for it."

Yeo admits she would have liked to have performed in front of her own more than the one occasion, at the 1993 Games, when she plundered nine gold medals at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.

She has two Asian Games bronze medals and has competed at four Olympics. She was a sprinter, and the butterfly was her pet event.

So much of her life has been about the water, and she still gets wet, often swimming with her sons.

She still loves it and is very much looking forward to June's Games.

"This is an opportunity for Singaporeans to get really involved with one heart, with your fellow countrymen as one nation.

"Sport can do this," she said.

She will always be our Jos', standing tallest in SEA Games annals, weighed down with all that gold.

leonardt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 16, 2015.
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