SEA Games: Water polo reign a remarkable stat, proud achievement

SEA Games: Water polo reign a remarkable stat, proud achievement

The most cherished. The most treasured. The most wanted.

And it's Singapore's best prized possession at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

It has been 18,076 days - or about 50 years - since this worthy gold medal has been with Singapore.

And yesterday, the phenomenal stranglehold was extended by another two years.

Singapore, perennial winners of the men's water polo gold since Dec 19, 1965, wrote another chapter - the 26th - to this history-making story.

The hosts beat Indonesia 15-10 at the OCBC Aquatic Centre to retain the crown in impeccable fashion.

It was also fitting that it was Singapore's final gold medal to cap a memorable SEA Games for the hosts, one that showcased our organisational ability and sporting achievements.

The water polo gold made it 84 victories for Singapore at this SEA Games - a herculean effort by the hosts, whose previous best was 50 golds when the biennial event was last here in 1993.

No doubt, the scoreline was a little flattering. For there were two periods in the titanic tussle when it looked as though the gutsy Indonesians could perform the "mother of all upsets".

From 1-4 down, they drew level to 4-4; then minutes later, staged a brilliant comeback to 7-8 and were all pumped up.

But Singapore, egged on by a vociferous 3,000-strong crowd's cheers - both spontaneous and organised - played like true champions to race to victory.

Just before the medal presentation ceremony, the ecstatic crowd stayed on to savour a walk Down Memory Lane.


One representative from each of the 25 previous gold-medal winning teams lined up before the podium to present their glittering medal to President Tony Tan Keng Yam, to be later preserved at the Sports Museum.

Dr Tan Eng Liang, the 76-year-old co-chef de mission of this Games, led the parade, which was anchored by his elder brother Tan Eng Bock, captain of the first triumphant team in 1965.

And, as the names of each of the representatives were read out, the Tans aside, we had Kenneth Kee, Lim Teck Yin, Matthew Tan and even the late stalwart Eric Yeo in spirit (whose medal was presented by his son Paul), there was a thunderous cheer.

The biggest applause was, however, reserved for Eng Bock, 78, who presented his framed 1965 letter of commendation from our founding father Lee Kuan Yew to the President.

The medals and the letter will provide a storied legacy for our water polo heroes over the years.

Of how they have been hunted down each time.

Of how they withstood the challenges of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines at some Games.

Of how they raised their game when it mattered.

No doubt, the gap between Singapore and the chasing quartet has been getting narrower and narrower.

It was exemplified yesterday by a well-honed Indonesian team and acknowledged by Eng Bock himself.

"Bock", as he is popularly known, is one who has been to all but one of the SEA Games since 1965 - as a player, coach, referee and spectator.

Giving his educated verdict on yesterday's match, he said: "I knew that we would win, considering that our preparations have been thorough.

"We had a few goal attempts which hit the woodwork and we even missed a penalty.

"Having said that, the Indonesians did provide us a few scares. They were resolute and played their hearts out.

"It is certainly getting tougher and tougher to defend our crown."


We have heard the strains of the Majulah Singapura 25 previous times from swimming and synchronised swimming at the Aquatic Centre.

But yesterday's playing of the national anthem, accompanied by the patriotic singing of the spectators, had a special ring to it.

For there is probably no other longtime reign at any Games as that provided by our heroic water polo boys.

By the time the 29th SEA Games comes around in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, that reign should hit the 18,700-day mark - a remarkable statistic and a proud achievement, indeed.

This article was first published on June 17, 2015.
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