No excuse not to excel

Usain Bolt once said: "Anything is possible. I don't think limits."

Pressure is one word that doesn't exist in the dictionary of the world's fastest man.

The Jamaican embraces pressure. He relishes it.

Similarly, Team Singapore athletes who are about to do battle at the 17th Asian Games, which officially start today in Incheon, South Korea, shouldn't see pressure as a taboo term.

It's about time Team Singapore had a radical change in mindset.

Enough of excuses, such as "we tried our best", "our opponents were too good" and "we will do better next time".

Enough of officials shunning away from setting medal targets because they don't want to "put undue pressure" on their athletes.

And enough of coddling under-performing athletes by saying that they are sent for "exposure and experience".

The 224-strong contingent are in Incheon because the athletes have met the qualification criteria set by the Singapore National Olympic Council.

Gone are the days when Singapore athletes were "small fish in a big pond".

With increased funding, top-level coaching and the aid of sports science, there's no reason why our athletes cannot perform to their best. If they fail to deliver results, they have to deliver answers.

At the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, Team Singapore won four gold, seven silver and six bronze medals.

Four years on, we should better that tally, considering the world-beaters and Games champions we have in our stable.

In shooting, we have newly crowned Commonwealth Games champions in Jasmine Ser and Teo Shun Xie, as well as rising star Martina Lindsay Veloso, who won a gold at the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in Munich in June and added a silver in the women's 10m air rifle at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games last month.

The Republic's sailors, who contributed two golds at the Guangzhou Asiad, are expected to rule the waters at the Wangsan Marina in Incheon.

Among the 17-strong sailing contingent are world youth champions (men's 420 - Jonathan Yeo and Loh Jia Yi), Asian champions (29er women - Priscilla Low and Cecilia Low), Under-18 420 world champions Savannah Siew and Kimberly Lim and Laser specialist Colin Cheng, the top-ranked Asian sailor at the 2012 London Olympics who qualified for the 2016 Rio Games last weekend.

In the pool, Tao Li is a two-time defending champion in the women's 50m butterfly.

The 24-year-old has been training under Joseph Schooling's former coach Sergio Lopez at the Bolles School in Florida since April and she should hit the peak of her powers in South Korea.

The one to watch, though, is Schooling, who could end Singapore's Asiad golden drought in men's swimming since 1982, when Ang Peng Siong won the 100m freestyle in New Delhi.

Schooling's personal bests of 23.43 seconds in the 50m fly and 51.69sec in the 100m fly, both clocked at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, last month, are the fastest in Asia this year. The Texas University freshman claimed a slice of Singapore's sporting history when he won the Republic's first swimming medal at the Commonwealth Games - a silver in the 100m fly.


It wasn't all smooth sailing for the US-based swimmer, though.

The 19-year-old raised the hopes of a nation when he qualified for the 50m fly final by smashing the national record in his heat, but finished seventh in the final.

Sources told me that he "freaked out" in the final but, instead of dwelling on the past, Schooling regrouped to clinch the historic silver medal in the 100m fly.

The way he bounced back from adversity is a lesson for his teammates.

And when we talk about "semangat" (spirit in Malay), Team Singapore can draw inspiration from former national bowler Remy Ong, winner of three gold medals at the 2002 Busan Games, the last time South Korea hosted the Asiad.

Then only 23, Ong upstaged the big guns to strike gold in the trios, singles and Masters events.

Recently, the 35-year-old, who is now the national coach, was asked if the men bowlers, whose track record pales in comparison with their female counterparts, can spring a surprise in Incheon.

His response?

"I will keep quiet about this for now. I took part in my first Asian Games in 2002 and I had no track record then. No one expected me to win three golds, so maybe someone (in the men's team) will do wonders this year."

I know Remy well. He hates to lose. A fierce competitor by nature, he pays no respect to reputation or form as he strives to be No. 1 on the lanes.

Team Singapore athletes can certainly take a leaf from the two-time Sportsman of the Year (2003 and 2007).

Officials must also do their part.

Swimming cap and goggle controversies made the wrong headlines at the 2012 Olympics and the Commonwealth Games last July.

Jessie Phua, the chef de mission for the Incheon Games, delivered a timely warning for officials earlier this month.

"I told (the officials) I will be the nightmare from hell if they don't do their job," said Phua, who is also president of the Singapore Bowling Federation.

Indeed, there should be bouquets for winners and brickbats for under-achieving athletes. If anything, the Republic's athletes should do well to heed Bolt's famous words: "Anything is possible. I don't think limits."

Go out and strut your stuff, Team Singapore.

This article was first published on September 19, 2014.
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