SEA Games: After Jos, it's Joseph

He wasn't born when Singapore last hosted the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in 1993.

But swimming star Joseph Schooling knows what it meant to Singaporeans.

"I didn't hear many stories (about the 1993 SEA Games), but I know it was a special moment for Singaporeans," said the 18-year-old, who will start his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas in August.

After 22 years, the SEA Games will return to Singapore next year.

It is eagerly anticipated, with the Singapore Sports Hub and the new National Stadium set to be the centrepiece of much of the action.

Schooling is expected to light up the new OCBC Aquatics Centre, just like Joscelin Yeo did at the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex in 1993.

Just 14 at the time, Yeo dominated the swimming programme, winning an astonishing nine golds and a silver, as Singapore finished the biennial Games with a record 50 gold medals.

Now 34, Yeo told The New Paper: "It was awesome! Having family, friends, teammates who you train with, and fans who are for you, all behind you cheering you on and willing you on is an amazing feeling; one that almost wills you to go beyond what you think you can do."

Home support

Many of Singapore's athletes will not know what it is like to have an overwhelming force backing them from the stands.

It is why so many are looking forward to the Games.

It is also the reason Schooling is tipped for a special performance when the event rolls around next year, from June 5 to 16.

A final-year student at the Florida-based Bolles School, the butterfly specialist owns five national records and was the most successful Team Singapore athlete at last year's SEA Games in Myanmar with five golds and a silver.

Schooling finished 10th in the men's 200m butterfly at last year's World Championships in Barcelona, and was subsequently granted deferment from full-time national service till August 2016, as he chases a medal at the Rio Olympics.

The teenager will use next year's SEA Games as a stepping stone and a confidence-booster.

"It means a great deal to me especially because the Games will be held in Singapore," he said.

"That's going to give me an extra push to do well and not disappoint the nation on our turf.

"Hopefully, a lot of people show up to support us; that really helps a lot.

"I hope to do well and continue the winning tradition for Singapore swimming."

Yeo's magnificent performance in 1993 was a springboard to a stunning swimming career.

She went on to win the 100m butterfly bronze at the Asian Games in 1994 and 2002.

The SEA Games became her personal gold mine, winning 40 by the time she wrapped up her swimming career - the most by an individual in the history of the Games.

If Yeo has one piece of advice for Schooling and Singapore's athletes, it is that they should also soak in the atmosphere during the Games.

She said: "The whole competition went by so fast, and I was a pretty young swimmer then, so most of the time I was just trying to take in everything as much as I could.


"But that SEA Games in 1993 rates right at the top of most memorable moments in my swimming career," added the former Nominated Member of Parliament, who competed at four Olympic Games, four Asian Games and seven SEA Games.

"I wish I had another chance to do that."

You might not see her in the pool next year, but don't be surprised if she works up the crowd as host when Schooling steps up to the starting block.

Asked if she would consider being a volunteer at the Games, Yeo said: "I would most certainly like to be involved in any way that I can help."

Schooling knows what he's supposed to do next year - raise the Majulah Singapura as often as he can.

"It's very important for the athletes to do well not only for themselves, but also to bring pride and glory to Singapore," he said.

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