Former national swimmer-turned actor Russell Ong says why he decided to walk away from the sport

Former national swimmer-turned actor Russell Ong says why he decided to walk away from the sport
Former national swimmer Russell Ong.
PHOTO: The New Paper

In March, Singapore national swimmer-turned-actor Russell Ong walked away from the sport that had been a major part of his life for more than a decade.

On paper, it looked like a tough decision.

But as the 26-year-old chiselled hunk told the local media yesterday at the press conference of new Channel 5 drama Lion Moms, he knew his "time was up" after failing to qualify for June's SEA Games.

Back then, he merely announced his retirement on Facebook without delving into the reasons why.

Until now.

"Mentally, I was tired. Sadly, I had lost the passion and drive for competitive swimming. I no longer felt the adrenaline rush. I didn't have it in me to push myself further," Ong told The New Paper.

"If you look at the different generations of our national swimmers, there is always a seven-year gap. Between Mark Chay and Gary Tan's generation and myself. Between me and the new generation (like Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen).

"I look at the kids and I see they are full of passion. They are so fierce. I remember being that fierce when I was younger." There was also a physical reason for calling time on the sport.

"If I had continued, I would have needed surgery on my wrists, which I wasn't keen on... I did not want to risk surgery for sport any more," he said, adding that he did not reveal his injury back then as he "didn't want to publicise it".

Ong, a 50m freestylist, ended his 11-year career with nine SEA Games medals in the bag, won between 2007 and 2013.


And he has fond memories of his glory days.

"When I was a child, all I wanted to do was to represent Singapore at the SEA Games," he said. "I was never a talented swimmer and I am happy I managed to accomplish more than that."

Flashing his cute dimples and pearly whites, he said he has "moved on to more interesting things" - referring to his newfound love for acting.

Ong, who is signed to talent agency Beam Artistes, plays swinging bachelor and fitness trainer Peng Koo in Lion Moms, which premieres on Sept 14 at 10pm.

The 12-episode series follows the ups and downs of three mothers (played by Hong Kong actress Bernice Liu and local actresses Nurul Aini and Vanessa Vanderstraaten) as they strive to provide the best for their children.

It marks Ong's acting debut on television.

He plays the love rival to Ah Boys To Men star Joshua Tan's character, as both men hold a torch for Vanderstraaten's character. In 2013, Ong had a supporting role in local horror flick Ghost Child.

With a laugh, he admitted to "feeling comfortable" with his topless scenes - and there are several of them - in Lion Moms.

"I don't know if my body is an asset, but for me, it is easy (to go topless) because I was always in swimming trunks before," he said. "Swimming trunks are literally underwear, so, yeah, I have been in my underwear in front of the whole country and the whole of South-east Asia."

Acting and memorising his lines posed greater difficulty.

"I struggled with my lines initially. I would memorise and memorise, but they just didn't come out well," he recalled.

"Gradually, I picked up some tips and learnt how to internalise the message of the script, instead of memorising it word for word."

He added: "Acting on television is a lot more difficult than I thought it'd be.

"Props to the real actors and actresses on our show, they made it look so easy. They are all very talented and I am learning so much from them."

When asked if he would be pouring all his efforts into showbiz from this point onwards, Ong grinned and said: "Potentially, yes."

This article was first published on August 22, 2015.
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