Sporting past preserved for everyone

Sporting past preserved for everyone
Tang Pui Wah (blue shirt) and netball pioneer Tan Yoon Yin talking with minister Lawrence Wong in front of an exhibit of Tan Howe Liang’s weightlifting gear from the 1960 Olympics.

SINGAPORE - Her name is unlikely to ring a bell with most Singaporeans but Tang Pui Wah holds an important place in the country's sporting history.

Now 81, the former teacher was the Republic's first female Olympian when she took part in the 100m sprint and 80m hurdles at the 1952 Helsinki Games, before winning a Manila Asian Games bronze medal in the latter event two years later.

More importantly, she was a trailblazer for female athletes in Singapore colours when being active in sports was generally frowned upon.

"I'm proud to have inspired girls to go on the same path as me and represent our country," she said yesterday evening at the official opening of the Singapore Sports Museum and Singapore Youth Olympic Museum at the Sports Hub.

"Once there's a beginning to something, people will naturally follow suit so I'm happy and excited that things have turned out as such."

Apart from facing opposition due to her gender, Tang competed when there was little funding for national athletes.

Although their trips overseas were paid for by what is now the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), national athletes had to cover their own training expenses while juggling sports with studies or work.

A fierce patriot, Tang never folded in adversity. She cited Song-dynasty general Yue Fei and warrior-poet Wen Tianxiang's loyalty to China as inspirations after reading novels about them.

"If these noble men could have a deep sense of patriotism without ever asking for anything in return, I felt obliged to do the same," said Tang.

She hung up her spikes for good in 1955, at the age of 22, when she graduated belatedly from secondary school as she had stopped attending classes during the Japanese Occupation.

After graduation, she taught mathematics and PE at Kheng Cheng School for two years, before she married and quit her job to raise her two sons. She faded from the public eye after that.

But she was not forgotten by Singapore sports officialdom and was asked to play a part in yesterday's event. The museums are open to the public from today.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong, paid tribute to the pioneers like Tang and more than 200 other veteran sportsmen, officials and coaches at the opening ceremony.

"Our sports pioneers seeded the birth of our sporting nation... (by persevering) against the odds, and blazed the trail for many of us," he said.

"Through their efforts, they inspired many young athletes who now dare to pursue their sporting dreams and passion.

"With the foundations they laid, I am confident our new generation of sportsmen and women will be able to emulate their efforts and continue to fly the Singapore flag high."

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