There were cheers and celebration aplenty last night at the Singapore Sports Awards but, for the first time in recent memory, the annual event was missing some top winners of the night.
In many ways, the absence of many of the Republic's best athletes - most of them are competing in top-level events overseas - is symbolic of the progress that Singapore sports have made.
There were few surprises, as the Sportsman of the Year award went to swimmer Joseph Schooling for a stellar season last year that included a Commonwealth Games silver and an Asian Games gold.
The 20-year-old is currently competing at the Fina World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Shooter Jasmine Ser, away in Azerbaijan for this week's World Cup, is Sportswoman of the Year.
Both Schooling and Ser are second-time winners of the prestigious crowns awarded by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), having been honoured in 2012 and 2011 respectively.
Said Schooling: "I am always proud to represent Singapore, and 2014 was a particularly memorable year in my swimming career where my achievements established the drive and passion I've for swimming. I hope to continue to do Singapore proud, especially at the upcoming Rio Olympics next year."
Ser said the win was unexpected. The 24-year-old set a Commonwealth Games record en route to a gold in the 50m three positions in Glasgow last year. She was also fourth at the Asian Games' 10m air rifle and 50m three positions.
She told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Gabala: "This is very heartwarming and I'm filled with gratitude. It's a recognition of my efforts the past few years."
Team-mate Martina Lindsay Veloso, who is also in Azerbaijan, won Sportsgirl of the Year after missing out the year before.
The 15-year-old's season last year saw her compete in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, where she won a silver in the 10m air rifle.
She said: "After I missed out last year, I told my mum that I will try to win it the next year."
Cue sports' Aloysius Yapp picked up the Sportsboy of the Year award for his triumph at the World Junior Pool Championships, where he became the first Singapore-born pool player to win a world title.
The 19-year-old was also away, competing in Kuala Lumpur.
Swimming national head coach Sergio Lopez, who is at the world championships, took Coach of the Year honours.
He said: "I am extremely encouraged to receive this award. I look forward to working with the talented team of swimmers to achieve greater heights for Singapore swimming, and to also encourage and develop the next generation of swimmers."
Members of the triumphant Asian Games women's bowling team, who returned recently from competition in the United States, were among the few athletes present to receive their award in person at Marina Mandarin hotel.
The sextet of Jazreel Tan, Cherie Tan, Shayna Ng, New Hui Fen, Joey Yeo and Daphne Tan were awarded Team of the Year (event) for their gold medal at the Asian Games last year in Incheon.
Having missed out after being nominated twice before, the team were naturally glad to be recognised this time.
Said Jazreel Tan, who was also a nominee for Sportswoman of the Year: "Just to be able to be here and to be nominated means that we're doing well, and shows that our hard work is paying off."
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also president of the SNOC, noted that the absence of several athletes showed their constant pursuit of sporting excellence, even after the high of a successful SEA Games in June.
He told ST: "The fact that the winners for the main awards are away for competition, unable to be in Singapore to receive the awards, is a good sign.
"It shows that even after a big event like the SEA Games, our athletes are not stopping and have their sights set on bigger stages."
Mr Tan added that it was the collaboration across key stakeholders that has contributed to the recent success of national athletes, and is something that ought to be expanded upon.
"We need to take stock from the SEA Games, the lessons we learnt, and see what other areas we can strengthen - how do we, as a system, back up our athletes to the best of our abilities.
"That's where we can begin to move forward... and increase the possibility of our athletes doing well."
This article was first published on Aug 6, 2015.
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