Sports Hub can help S'pore athletes find own voices

Sports Hub can help S'pore athletes find own voices

It's 1956. It's Melbourne. The runner is in his early 20s, he is born in an Indian village, his English is almost non-existent, this Olympics is his first. The runner is a nobody searching to be somebody. Once, the runner didn't even know what the 400m was - one round, they told him - but now he's intent on mastering it.

So Milkha Singh - who told me this tale - finds a translator, seeks out Charles Jenkins, the American who wins the 400m, and says, mister, please give me your training schedule. What makes you great will help me be great. Jenkins gives it to him, Singh swots over it and sweats his ambition. Two years later he wins the first of four Asian Games golds, a Commonwealth gold and goes on to fourth place at the 1960 Olympics.

It was, as stories go, perfect. The untutored Indian runner, his desperation able to bridge any barrier in language, willing to learn. The gifted American, confronted by a junior rival asking for his secrets, yet willing to help.

It is a story of initiative Singapore athletes should hold close as the Sports Hub opens this year and great athletes - and coaches, and retired legends - swarm to these shores.

Doesn't matter if you're a shooter and the gifted visitor is a rugby player. Greatness is built of common bricks. Go, watch them. No, more than that. Pester your association, call the organisers, hang about in hotel foyers. Grab these champions, introduce yourself, assail them with questions. They're flesh and blood, just like you; once young and unsure, just like you. And nothing is more attractive to them than desire.

Some of them will talk. Bring a book. Make a list of lessons.

Here's what Edwin Moses might tell you. The 400m hurdler, with two Olympic golds (1976, 1984), had a degree in physics and biomechanics and last week explained that he brought that logical dimension to his racing.

My iPhone has a 28.3GB memory, but computers in his time, he says, had only 16K. Yet he studies stride patterns on it, he matches his timings on it, he makes whatever technology he has work for him.

So, too, can the Singapore athlete, for this is not about gizmos but attitude. It's not what training systems you don't have, but how you use what you do have. It's about the embrace of ideas, like boxer Manny Pacquiao having his minders hit him on his body with a wooden truncheon in practice. Why? Because in the ring, he says, when hit, fighters panic, but he won't for he's pals with pain. Nature might be kinder to some athletes and offer them superior bodies, but anyone can use their mind as an inventive weapon.

Here's why Daley Thompson, with two consecutive Olympic golds in the decathlon, is worth ambushing. For he might tell you why how, when the Olympics arrived, so did his best form. First, because a major Games was the only place where the decathlete - like you, the anonymous sailor or wrestler - was guaranteed a "big crowd and TV audience". It was his "opportunity" to shine. Know your moment, he's saying. Make your name.

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