After far exceeding all targets while shouldering the weight of expectations pinned on them, it was no wonder that Team Singapore were showered with superlatives by sports officials as the 28th SEA Games came to a close yesterday.
The 749-strong contingent was given a glowing report card at a post-Games media briefing, with their performances described as "excellent", "fantastic" and "impressive".
By the time the Games flame was extinguished last night, Singapore had amassed 84 golds, 73 silvers and 102 bronzes, surpassing the previous best haul of 50 golds from the 1993 Games - the last time the biennial multi-sport event was held on home soil.
It meant that the hosts are ranked second on the medal standings behind regional kingpins Thailand, a feat that has not been achieved since the 1975 Bangkok Games.
Chef de mission Tan Eng Liang revealed that he had set an internal target of 64 golds before the event kicked off officially on June 5. Matching the showing from 1993 was the minimum expected, he said.
"Fifty was a very safe prediction. The moment we hit my internal target, we knew that we were on the road to (even more). We are extremely pleased that we're able to achieve that," Dr Tan said.
Nicholas Fang, the co-chef de mission, added: "It's not an overstatement. To be able to be among the top three nations speaks a lot about the performance of the athletes and the preparations that have gone in."
The contingent's success was attributed to a number of factors, among them the fact that being hosts meant the organisers could, to a large extent, design the sports and events contested to Singapore's advantage.
Netball, for instance, returned to the roster after a 14-year absence. Floorball made its SEA Games debut. Events such as the jumbo doubles in squash were also introduced. Singapore won golds in all these events.
Funding above and beyond what sports associations and athletes usually received was also pumped in by stakeholders.
Medals were mined from 33 out of the 36 sports - only football, petanque and tennis finished empty-handed.
While he was personally disappointed by the performance of the Young Lions, Dr Tan credited the team for trying their best - but also cautioned that sports which have reaped a less-than-ideal harvest must address what went wrong.
He said: "I would expect them to do a detailed analysis and come up with some plan to bring them further if they want to improve."
For now, officials are hopeful that the contingent's success at the SEA Games will serve as inspiration for athletes to strive for loftier goals, and encourage budding future athletes.
Said Dr Tan: "The SEA Games is one step in a series of major events that leads to the Olympics. These successes will hopefully spur us on to do better in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
"These Games have produced numerous heroes and heroines, and they're all inspiring and encouraging role models for younger athletes to follow."
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