A poised Jessie Phua, Singapore's chef de mission at the Asiad, led a small group of athletes from sailing, sepak takraw, badminton and athletics into the flag plaza of the Athletes' Village yesterday morning as the Singapore flag was raised in an official welcome by the organisers.
As she stood at attention to sing the national anthem, gold fingers peeped out from under Phua's red sleeves.
"If this, painting my nails gold, can help our athletes strike gold, we'll make this the standard operating procedure," quipped the Singapore Bowling Federation president, laughing. She would not say it, but her nails clearly hinted at what was on her mind.
She did say that the ground was fertile for a good showing by the 224 Singapore athletes who will do battle in 20 sports.
"Usually athletes are not chatty and they keep their distance from me, but this time, they say hello and greet me, even sit around for a chat. I like the spirit of this team," she said. "I think it's a sign of quiet confidence."
And as she watched athletes from the other five countries welcomed yesterday - North Korea, Yemen, China, Bangladesh and Thailand - leave the plaza to return to their quarters, she asserted that the conditions in the village will aid Singapore's cause.
"The set-up is fantastic - they've got an athletes services centre (with recreational facilities) and it's refreshing, they've got things that you'd never expect," she said, going on to describe the various facilities including a footbath, massage chairs and even a jamming room, where athletes "can go play the guitar, or bang on drums if they have a bad day in training".
"It's really very interesting, and I have to commend the organisers on that."
While there are some issues with the village, Phua was pleased that planning was done to ensure a smooth transition and athlete comfort from the get go.
Said Phua: "The village is quite a huge estate, so spread out. But, the good thing is that our advanced party came, so we've got information in advance, that the rooms are quite bare, and that we'll need mosquito repellant, that kind of thing.
"I think it's helped our athletes settle down fast."
And positive signs are already there.
The football team came back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Oman on Wednesday and keep their hopes of qualification into the Round of 16 alive, and Phua was ecstatic. "I'm extremely proud of our football boys, I went to the changing room to speak with them and the spirit is good.
"They've got one more match, so satu lagi (one more in Malay)," she said, calling for one more inspired performance against Group A opponents Palestine on Sunday.
If Singapore win, and the Tajikistan-Oman result goes their way, Aide Iskandar's men will advance.
But Phua continued her theme of not talking about medal targets.
"All in all, it has been good, I think we've made progress. Now when our athletes go to Games, they are expected to medal.
"Isn't that a sign of progress, that they are of a standard to step up to the podium?" she stated, raising her gold-tipped hand.
This article was first published on September 19, 2014.
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