YOG golds prove that elite sports and kids can mix

YOG golds prove that elite sports and kids can mix
Samantha Yom (left) and Bernie Chin (right) posing with SNOC executive committee and International Olympic Committee member Ng Ser Miang with their historic gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games at Jinniu Lake in Nanjing on 24 Aug 2014.

Somewhere along the banks of the Jinniu Lake in Nanjing, a slice of history was written yesterday when Singapore struck Olympic gold.

The two Youth Olympic medals won by Bernie Chin and Samantha Yom will go down in sporting annals as the first such titles ever won by the Republic.

For a developing sporting nation like Singapore, this is a big deal. After all, there are only a handful of Olympic silvers and bronzes to show for 78 years competing on sport's biggest stage.

Yet the magnitude of the double victory goes more than merely ending a long drought or earning a precious piece of metal.

More than anything, the wins are an affirmation that our youth indeed have a rightful place in elite international sport.

All too often, sporting excellence has been judged through the lens of senior sport. We celebrate medals won at the traditional Summer Olympics, the Asian Games, and hail achievements and records at senior meets.

But in reality, an elite athlete's journey starts much earlier, even before a child becomes a teen.

It is during these crucial formative years that parent and child must decide if they are willing to submit to a life of training and discipline. Parents must ask themselves if they are willing to forgo sleep to send their kids to morning training or sacrifice weekends to sit by a field, pool, or in the Chins' and the Yoms' case, the sea, to lend their child support.

In Singapore, where most parents still wish for junior to become a lawyer, doctor or banker instead of a swimmer, footballer or sailor, not many take that leap.

But a small group of brave souls do, which is why the Chins, the Yoms, and many like-minded parents, deserve praise.

It is never easy seeing your child fall behind in school work, yet at least five of the 18-strong Nanjing contingent put their studies on hold to best prepare themselves to take on the world.

Much has been invested in sport here to encourage talented souls to chase their sporting dreams - from the $1.33 billion Sports Hub to the $40 million set aside specifically to fund elite athletes.

But ultimately, the earliest impetus often has to start at home. An athlete's dreams almost never take flight without support from their parents.

Not all these parents will agree on the best way to nurture their kids. Some insist on staying in mainstream schools, others find the flexibility of the Singapore Sports School more conducive. But with no guarantee of success, they are willing to give sport a go - which is all anyone can ask.

The journey from Nanjing city to Jinniu Lake is arduous. It involves crossing the Yangtze river and takes almost two hours.

It is perhaps apt that Bernie and Samantha made history there. For although they took a big step in their sporting journeys, it is only a first step. But at least they took the plunge - when it would have been easier not to.


This article was first published on August 25, 2014.
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