The good, the bad and the ugly

DR Tan Eng Liang is not one to mince his words.

The Team Singapore chef de mission for this SEA Games has held key positions in the Singapore sports scene for over 40 years - and his experience and expertise in evaluating athletes are never in doubt.

So when he called a media conference yesterday and told us journalists straight up that Team Singapore's performance at this Games was "at best, satisfactory", everyone sat up and listened intently for his analysis of the team's 42 gold, 43 silver and 72 bronze outing.

And the wizened sports administrator pulled no punches in sounding out those sports that have disappointed (shooting, fencing, silat, sepak takraw, football).

He was also generous in showering accolades on those exemplary sports and sportsmen (swimming, canoeing, badminton's women's singles champion Fu Mingtian.)

He also shed some light on why he thought Singapore's performance was merely satisfactory.

The vital statistic: Out of the 414 Singaporean athletes sent to compete at the Games, only 174 won at least a medal.

That works out to be about 42 per cent, or less than half of the contingent sent to Palembang and Jakarta.

And since the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC's) qualifying criterion for athletes is the bronze-medal mark at the last SEA Games, it is a little disappointing that more than half the sportsmen could not earn a medal.

In particular, team sports like football, basketball and traditional boat racing - which require big teams of around 15 or more players - have not contributed many medals.

By contrast, Dr Tan gave plenty of praise to the swimming contingent, which brought home 17 golds, nine silvers and 13 bronzes.

He noted the swimming association's success in putting in place a system of producing talents and getting good coaches to train the potential medallists, and swimmers delivering the goods when it mattered.

He also singled out an important factor in swimming which other sports should try to emulate: that they get the strong support of parents of the participants.

"This is a pillar of strength that many other sports have not utilised or maximised," Dr Tan said. "The parents have certainly contributed to their children's success."

Indeed, these parents had made their way to Palembang to cheer their sons and daughters on during the swimming competitions, and the delight on their faces must surely be a big factor for swimmers to keep trying for medals.

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