C'wealth Games: Republic ready to Glas-go!

In the concrete-coloured skies over Scotland's biggest city, the five stars and crescent moon have brightened up a corner of Glasgow's cloudy east end.

With the help of three local firemen, Singapore flags and bunting depicting the lion have been hung up at the athletes' village before the Commonwealth Games, which will commence tomorrow.

And with the 70-strong contingent receiving a warm welcome from their Glaswegian hosts at the flag-raising ceremony yesterday morning, the Games provide an opportunity to win medals and also a chance to pick up tips on how best to host the SEA Games on home soil next year.

Pointing to his driver, Team Singapore chef de mission Low Teo Ping said: "She is from the Isle of Tiree, four hours away by ferry and another two-and-a-half hours by road. And she came all the way to volunteer.

"The firemen came forward and brought a ladder to help us decorate our homes in the village.

"We have been greeted warmly by policemen, bus drivers... this gives the Games a different feel as you sense that the whole community is behind the event.

"I would like to see our own SEA Games achieve this kind of feeling."

Low is also vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council and a member of the 2015 SEA Games steering committee.

Singapore's top male badminton player Derek Wong, who is targeting the semi-finals, added: "This is how visitors would like to be welcomed.

"I hope that when we host the SEA Games, we can be more open and let the athletes feel that they are not just here to compete but also that they are part of the Games."

The 35ha Village provides a recreational area for 6,500 athletes housed there. It has a gym, a medical centre, billiards tables, gaming consoles, three cafes, smoothie bars, a salon that provides hairdressing and manicure/pedicure services and athletes are also welcome to join yoga and pilates sessions by the lawn.

Preaching sustainability through low carbon emissions, solar panels and energy-efficient design, the facility is reusing 260,000 pieces of furniture and fittings from the London Olympics of 2012.

After the Games conclude, this cluster of semi-detached houses and two blocks of flats will be sold off as condominiums as part of the process to re-energise a section of Glasgow that has battled social deprivation.

With the warm reception setting Team Singapore at ease, Low believes the contingent is ready to put up a good show in the first of three major competitions before the SEA Games.

Following Glasgow are September's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea and the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.

At the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games, a 65-strong Singapore contingent rallied to the country's best-ever performance at the event, hauling in 11 gold medals, 11 silvers and nine bronzes. Low believes there will be a similar, or better, harvest in Scotland.

"The medals will come from our traditional strengths - table tennis and shooting, but there could be additional medals to come from gymnastics and weighlifting," he said.

"Weighlifter Scott Wong has been improving quickly. Our swimmers arrived early to acclimatise in Surrey (England) and Joseph Schooling is a good bet for a medal. A lot of our athletes have been training extremely hard and are peaking, so you never know, we might have some surprises."

In the case of those Singaporean athletes who fail to stand on the podium, Low expects they will at least set new personal bests and smash national records.

But some say the Games have somewhat lost their lustre, especially with the London Olympics still fresh in the memory.

David Beckham and Daniel Craig headlined the opening ceremony for the London Olympics while Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle will sing at Celtic Park tomorrow night.

An injured Lee Chong Wei will not return to defend his men's badminton singles title and the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt, will perform for about nine seconds as he will only compete in the 4x100m relay.

But Glasgow is still a good place for Singapore's athletes to polish their skills.

Paddler Isabelle Li, playing in her first Commonwealth Games, said: "The team left early for Linz, Austria, to acclimatise to the weather and time difference. And we have been analysing the different playing styles we will encounter in this competition.

"The Commonwealth Games is definitely a very useful stepping stone for me. I will gain experience and I'll learn what it's like to be part of a team pursuing gold."

With such warm hospitality and athletes prepared for a good haul of medals for Singapore, the only complaint has been the high level of security.

Athletes, officials and media all have to remove any metal objects, including belts, watches and accreditation before passing through metal detectors and having their bags scanned.

But Low still sees the funny side of this with his wisecrack: "I had become a stripper."

This article was first published on July 22, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.