Goodbye, Mr Swimming

He was a permanent fixture at Games - be it the South-east Asia (SEA) Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games or the Olympics - for almost half a century.

He was called "Mr Swimming" for he has officiated in world aquatics as a referee, technical delegate and member of appeals commission, be it in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Seoul, Sydney or Beijing.

He was a longstanding secretary of the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA), a tenure of almost 25 years that propelled him to be a useful adviser to the association's executive committee.

Best of all, I would like to remember Woon Sui Kut, who died on Saturday, aged 83, as a reporter's friend, a journalist's dream.

For the walking encyclopaedia of swimming would rattle off times and statistics so easily that reporters of old need not be armed with notepads and reams of paper.

This SEA Games in Myanmar turned out to be the last assignment (as a technical delegate) for the former educationist because, on his return after the swimming events, he suffered a fall at his East Coast home and could not recover from the mishap.

A minute of silence was observed in his honour at Saturday's diving events in Naypyidaw.

Jeffrey Leow, the SSA president, who visited him on Friday at Changi General Hospital, said Saturday: "He was in coma. He passed away this afternoon at 4.34pm."

Added Leow: "He continued to serve in my committee because we recognise his vast experience. He was so heavily involved in the organising of the swimming events in Myanmar.

"Without his input, I don't know if the swimming events would have run so smoothly."

There was a period in the '70s when I used to visit Woon so frequently at the Extra-Curricular Activities Centre (ECAC) at Northumberland Road where he was a schools' specialist, then also the swimming association's secretary.

The Beetle he drove stored all the information about Singapore swimming, the nicely-stacked files in its boot was reference material on the occasional event that he did not have answers to reporters' queries.

During a period when meetings ended late into the night and I depended on public transport, he would offer to send me to the then Straits Times office at Kim Seng Road.


And there were many occasions where I picked up fresh insights into the politics of world swimming from one of the few respected Asian officials in the international swimming federation.

Stern-faced, witty and often speaking with an air of authority about swimming, Woon displayed a hard exterior.

But deep down, he was affable, warm, helpful and a good companion.

I have been on many Games during which Woon was a member of the Singapore contingent.

Donning the familiar red blazer over white shirt and cream pants, he was a pride to Singapore, holding senior positions in committees dominated by the world powers of swimming, namely the United States, Australia, Britain and China.

And often he has been good resource and research material for me, providing information and statistics that matter to my articles and stories.

SS Dhillon, the former Singapore National Olympic Council secretary-general who was also Woon's colleague at the ECAC, said: "He was a great sporting ambassador for Singapore in world swimming.

"And his contributions to Singapore swimming, both at school, club and national level have been massive."

Tan Eng Bock, a former water polo player, coach and referee, said: "I have been to many Games with Sui Kut.

"He was so easily recognised by foreign officials who see him as a firm but fair referee and judge."

Singapore, and world swimming, will certainly miss him.

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