Many have quit sports since YOG

Many have quit sports since YOG
Singapore’s diver Myra Lee at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex on 22 April 2014.

When Singapore won the bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010, it marked the start of a new sporting journey for 130 young athletes. Ahead of Saturday's Nanjing YOG, Lim Ching Ying, Toh Ting Wei & Choo Yun Ting look at the legacy the Singapore Games left behind.

Had it not been for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010, diver Myra Lee would probably have never stepped onto a springboard.

A former gymnast, she switched sports in 2009 after a hamstring injury forced her out of her first love.

While she finished last among 12 girls in the 10m platform event at the YOG, the Games proved to be a springboard for her subsequent regional success, diving her way to a bronze in the synchronised 3m springboard event at last year's SEA Games in Naypyitaw.

"I grew to really like diving, and at the same time, I could tell that the diving committee wanted this sport to last," said Myra, now 20 and a medal hopeful for next year's Singapore SEA Games.

"They really had a plan for the future, and a plan for us to continue on in the sport. I saw that this sport was going to go somewhere and I wanted to be a part of it."

At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games last month, paddlers Isabelle Li and Clarence Chew were part of Singapore's gold medal-winning women's and men's table tennis teams respectively.

Like Myra, they too have their YOG experience to thank for setting them on their sporting journeys.

The trio are among just 51 athletes from the 130-strong Singapore YOG contingent still pursuing sport at an elite level.

More than 60 per cent of the Republic's first batch of youth Olympians, who competed in all 26 sports, have either given up the sport completely or are content with recreational or coaching roles.

Of the six medallists from individual sports in 2010 (two silver and four bronze medallists), only three remain in the competitive arena. The Cubs, an 18-strong team who won football bronze, have a mere four still in the sport.

Other than national service and studies, those who quit - many of them from team sports - also cite the inability to deal with pressure at a young age and the lack of support for the sport as reasons for quitting. Others also felt that they have reached their sporting peak.

Said former national discus thrower James Wong, the chef de mission for the 2010 Games:

"The whole idea is to start them young with the ideology and philosophy behind the Olympic movement and not only become great athletes but also be successful in life as well through sports, but I feel that sometimes, they train too hard and burn out."

Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Ng Ser Miang, who was instrumental in Singapore winning the bid to host the 2010 Games, said that the reason to send a bumper team in 2010 was two-fold.

One was to gave as many young athletes as possible, either through direct qualification or wild-card entries, a once-in-a-lifetime experience in competing at the highest level.

Second was to kick-start sporting programmes that were otherwise dormant or non-existent in Singapore.

In contrast, there are only 18 going to this year's YOG.

The Republic invested an estimated $387 million to host the Games, with a further $5 million war chest given to help prepare the Republic's athletes for the Games.

Ideally, the YOG was intended to encourage not just young athletes to aspire to a higher level, but also their respective national sports associations, to step up the level of support and assistance offered to youth sport.

Commenting on the 60.8 per cent attrition rate of YOG athletes, Ng, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said:

"Team sports have always been more challenging than individual sports to sustain as it is more complex to coordinate and schedule training, competitions etc and much more expensive to do so especially when it comes to overseas trips. So it is not surprising there were more drop-outs from team events."

"But I can still see many positives from the YOG," added Ng, who chairs the IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020 YOG working group. Giving young athletes confidence to take on the world's best is one such positive.

In May, Clarence Chew, then-world No. 259, scalped world No. 35 Par Gerell of Sweden and world No. 37 Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong at the World Team Table Tennis Championships.

"I'm playing against opponents much older than me, so during training I try to increase the power of my stroke," said the 18-year-old of the need to keep exposing himself to a higher level.

Perhaps the best example of a sport still reaping rewards from the YOG is diving.

The sport had been an afterthought in the Singapore sports psyche since 2006 as falling participation numbers and funding saw it slip into the shadows as swimming and water polo basked in glory.

But after winning four medals at last year's Myanmar SEA Games, the sport's first since 1985, diving is once again enjoying its time in the sun.

All six divers at the SEA Games graduated from the "Learn to Dive" programme launched in 2009, just ahead of the YOG, to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport.

From virtually nothing five years ago, the sport now boasts a national team and three junior squads, a national championships and a regional tournament, the Singapore Diving Invitational.

Even athletes who are no longer competing at the elite level believe the YOG was a positive experience and has helped instill a sense of pride in them.

Rhythmic gymnasts Cecilia Chia and Miki Nomura, both 18, felt that they actually peaked during the YOG as they did not possess the necessary physique to further thrive in the sport.

Both of them, however, have turned to coaching four to nine-year-olds, tapping on their YOG experience to spur on the young ones. They also serve as judges at national gymnastics competitions.

"It's less stressful (coaching)," admitted Miki.

"But you've been through what they've been through, so you have expectations of them like others had of you, and you'll push them more."

Taekwondo bronze medallist Daryl Tan, 21, sees coaching as a way of continuing giving back to his sport.

"To me, taekwondo is a way of life," he said.

"You want to see the sport succeed as a whole, compared to just getting a medal and forgetting about it."


This article was first published on August 10, 2014.
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