Legacy of YOG: Promising starts which fizzled out way too soon

While many Singapore athletes were inspired by the Youth Olympic Games, there are also many others who left the sport soon after, citing burnout.

What caused such disparate experiences?

For some Singapore youth athletes, the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) marked the end of their fledgling careers instead of becoming the path to further successes.

Carol Lee, a promising shooter who had won multiple titles at school level, represented Singapore in the 10m air rifle event then, finishing seventh. Yet, she felt that the YOG experience ultimately halted her sporting progress.

Now a law student at Singapore Management University, the 22-year-old recalled: "I was 'forced' to perform when I was a very immature shooter, and my performance started going downhill after that.

"I couldn't handle the fact that I wasn't as good as before - not realising that there are always ups and downs in a shooter's life."

Lee felt that, while the YOG helped in spotting talent, "sometimes that talent is being dragged to the forefront too early and it actually needs to incubate a bit more".

Seventy nine out of the 130 Singapore athletes who took part in the YOG have since stopped training at a high-performance level - even those who won medals, such as the third-placed football team, with only four out of the 18 still playing for national sides.

James Wong, Team Singapore's chef de mission at the YOG, holds a similar stance.

The former Singapore Athletic Association general manager said: "Most athletes achieve peak age only in their 20s or even their 30s, so they need time to mature and excel. For those who retire too early, we will never know if they have reached their full potential."

The post-YOG stumbles were not restricted to the athletes themselves. Some sports also struggled to gain a foothold in the local scene after the Games.

The Singapore Modern Pentathlon Association (Simpa), for example, was set up in 2008 to groom YOG athletes and eventually sent one, Valerie Lim, who finished 18th out of 24.

Since then, however, Simpa has struggled to make headway. Lim is now studying in England, but competing in fencing events instead.

Simpa president Nicholas Fang admits that it is a tough task to convince people to pick the sport up, as potential athletes need to be proficient in five different events.

The Handball Federation of Singapore, also set up to groom YOG athletes, has also struggled to build on the momentum.

That team disbanded after the Games, and only two of their 14 players are still playing for the national team.

Players spoken to agreed that while the YOG was a beneficial experience, the lack of continuity was a big factor in their decision to leave.

Four years on, as the YOG legacy begins to fade, the struggles of some sports and athletes have continued out of the public glare.

Lee hopes that, by sharing her experience, it will help local athletes to avoid the pitfalls.

She said: "They have to remember that there is their whole life ahead. Any failure is just one bump on the road and things will get better. Just hang in there."