Chee hopes Kallang Roar will spur young ones

Chee hopes Kallang Roar will spur young ones
Former track star Chee Swee Lee at the Singapore Sports Hub, where standing on the concrete on which the track will be laid gives her the goosebumps.

SINGAPORE - It has been more than 40 years since Chee Swee Lee first had a taste of the Kallang Roar as she took on rivals in the 400m and 800m at the then-newly opened National Stadium at Kallang.

The cheers of 55,000 fans - more famously linked to Singapore's Malaysia Cup-winning football heroics in the 1970s and 1980s - was also what gave Chee, one of Singapore's most decorated athletics stars, an extra kick to power her running.

"I loved hearing the crowd roar," she said. "It motivates you, it keeps you going, knowing the crowd is cheering for you."

The old National Stadium has since been torn down to make way for the Singapore Sports Hub which will open in stages from next month. The $1.33 billion facility will also host the SEA Games next year when home-grown athletes - like Chee - will have a chance to earn their Kallang Roar.

Touring the facility on Thursday, the 59-year-old was especially curious about the stadium's practice track, which had been her second home in her younger days.

"That's where we trained the hardest, that's where we made our gold medals," recalled the Las Vegas-based property agent.

Chee, who was back in town for induction into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame on March 14, still holds two individual national records - the 400m and her favoured 800m - and remains the only Singaporean woman to win an Asian Games gold medal in athletics.

She had made her international debut at the 1969 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games in Rangoon (now Yangon) in Burma (now Myanmar), winning a silver in the 400m.

But her goal to do well before home fans did not go as planned. She ended up with two silvers in the 400m and 800m.

"I wanted to win the gold medal at the 1973 Singapore Seap Games. But I didn't do it. I had to step back, re-analyse my training, and figure out why."

That she did, and she went on to apply those lessons on a bigger stage. At the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran, Iran, she clocked 55.08sec in the 400m to win the gold medal.

Said the Telok Kurau West Primary and Siglap Secondary alumna: "When the 1974 Games came, I was very prepared."

"It was mission accomplished. A dream come true. I'd been dreaming of it since I was 14. All my training was geared for that," added Chee, who retired from athletics in 1989 at the age of 34.

Her two national marks in the 400m and 800m have stood the test of time over the last 40 years. "I think they're ready to be broken," said Chee, who added a caveat, however.

"It takes somebody who really wants it bad enough, who has the courage to do the training it takes to break the record. When you have the opportunity, you have to go all out. These chances don't come back again."

Noting that the Sports Hub will host next year's SEA Games, and having experienced the magic of the Kallang Roar, she is hopeful that the setting will spur today's athletes to blaze new trails.

"It is the most amazing stadium that any athlete can have. You are going to get your adrenaline charged when you run that last 100m on that track."

The waves of nostalgia came back again as she stood on the concrete where the new track would be laid.

"I get goosebumps," admitted Chee, who is married to an American. They have no children.

"The track is not ready yet but I get the feeling that if I run on that track, I'm going to get the same adrenaline rush that I had during the Seap Games."

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