Eastview School coach Ho breaks 24-year gold drought

STRONG MAN: Ho Han Boon celebrating his win by lifting teammates (from left) Vanessa Ng, Ngo Yee Ling and Ang Xuan Yi.

There was no question who the most popular man at the Zayar Thiri Indoor Stadium on Saturday evening was.

Every few seconds, Singapore judoka Ho Han Boon would get a tap on his shoulder and the following question: "Excuse me, photo?"

The 24-year-old, who won the Republic's first South-east Asia (SEA) Games judo gold medal in 24 years after coming out tops in the over 100kg category, obliged each and every time.

Some of his new "fans" held up his gold medal as they posed for photos, but Ho knew what the real fascination is all about.

"I know they've never seen such a big guy before," the SEA Games debutant said with a smile.

INTRIGUED

Ho knows people are intrigued by his 1.92m, 188kg frame.

He sportingly hammed it up for the cameras, letting one Myanmarese fan bearhug him for one photo, and sweeping a Filipina athlete off her feet for another.

The judo coach at Eastview Secondary School has no issues with his weight, or naysayers who say he is too fat to be an athlete.

"I can't do anything when people make negative comments about my size," he said.

"The only thing I can do is prove them wrong, and, in a way, winning this gold helps me do that."

Ho, who was always naturally large but gained weight because of junk food, weighed as heavy as 220kg before a two week training camp in Mongolia in September.

He returned trimmer and leaner, and it clearly helped him in Naypyidaw.

Because only three judokas from his weight category turned up for the SEA Games, a round-robin format was adopted.

Even though Ho was already assured of a medal, he was determined to make sure he got the top prize.

He defeated his two rivals - Thailand's Saknarin Kaewpakdee and Malaysia's Abdul Razak - to win the coveted gold.

But, even though his two opponents were smaller-sized in comparison, Ho found the going tough.

"Size doesn't play a part," he said.

"I do get thrown around sometimes. In fact, in both matches, I was losing until I managed to make my opponents submit."

Ho said the first thing that went through his mind was how he managed to break Singapore's gold drought in judo.

Tang Soon Onn and Edmund Tan won Singapore's last gold medals at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 1989 - the year Ho was born.

Tang, who was on the sidelines cheering Ho on as the Singapore Judo Federation's vice-president of operations, said: "It feels fantastic to be here and see him win.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time. Hopefully, this gold will wake everyone up and get people interested in judo again."

Gerard Lim, the judo federation's high performance manager, pointed to Ho's success - as well as the silver medal won by Gary Chow (Under 81kg) and the bronzes won by Timothy Low (Under 100kg) and Gabriel Yang (under 90kg) - as evidence the sport is moving in the right direction.

Lim added that while Ho may not fit the profile of your typical athlete, his determination to pursue his passion despite criticism serves as a good example to aspiring athletes.

"The message we want to put across is that it's about heart," said Lim.

"Yes, he (Ho) is not your regular poster boy, he's not an athlete with six-pack abs. But he has heart.

"And if you have the skills, facilities but no heart, it doesn't count for anything.

"He persisted with his passion, and that's why he's here today, and the gold has vindicated him."


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