Get behind Team Singapore

Get behind Team Singapore

CHEF de mission Tan Eng Liang remembers the noise around the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex at the 1993 SEA Games very clearly.

The roaring rendition of Majulah Singapura that greeted then-14-year-old swimming sensation Joscelin Yeo and her record nine gold medals was deafening and carried this clear message to the Team Singapore athletes - we are here and we are behind you.

Such vociferous backing will once again be crucial when the Republic hosts the region's biggest sporting event in June for the first time in 22 years, noted Dr Tan.

The veteran sports administrator, who served as chairman of the Singapore Sports Council (renamed Sport Singapore last year) from 1975 to 1991, will again reprise his role as head of the Republic's contingent.

Now a Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president, he will be joined by former national fencer and ex-Nominated Member of Parliament Nicholas Fang for what is expected to be the country's largest squad to the Games.

Dr Tan told The Straits Times yesterday: "The success in 1993 was built on the passion and commitment of the athletes and officials as well as the tremendous support of the people of Singapore.

"The same ingredients will be needed this time around."

From the old National Stadium and the now-defunct Victor's SuperBowl in Marina South to the Yio Chu Kang Sports Hall, Singaporeans turned up in force to cheer their local sporting heroes who delivered 50 gold medals, still the country's best-ever result at the biennial Games.

"There won't be any problem motivating our athletes. I'm sure they are all aware how important this SEA Games is," noted Dr Tan who competed in water polo at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Home advantage is a double-edged sword though, as it inevitably also brings increased levels of expectation.

But Dr Tan dismissed the notion that it would lead to the local athletes suffering stage fright.

He said: "Any top athlete must know how to handle pressure.

"My message to them will be the same as in 1993 - to achieve a personal best and be proud of their performance."

Nevertheless, he also refused to lower the bar ahead of the June 5-16 Games, particularly in Singapore's golden jubilee year.

"There is a much higher level of financial support for our athletes now compared to back then and one must assume that they would be better prepared now," said the 76-year-old.

A year before the 1993 Games, the SSC disbursed $3 million to the various national sports associations to aid in their preparations.

Last March, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth announced it would give national athletes direct government funding to the tune of $60 million over five years.

Three months later, SportSG launched The Final Push, a one-year support scheme specifically for this year's Games that covers overseas training expenses, training equipment and coaching support for more than 200 prospective medal winners.

The 28th SEA Games, to be held here in less than five months, will involve more than 7,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries, and will feature 402 events in 36 sports.

The 1993 edition featured 29 sports.

Singapore won gold in 13 sports, with aquatics setting the tone with 13 golds while sports like wushu, bodybuilding, taekwondo and squash also played significant roles.

The sporting landscape here has changed with the country's strengths lying elsewhere, noted Dr Tan, though he expected the country's swimmers, led by Asian Games gold medallist Joseph Schooling, to once again contribute significantly to the medal standings.

"I think the likes of bowling, shooting, sailing and table tennis will do well this time around.

"With all the support from the Government and the people and on our 50th anniversary, we should achieve 50 gold medals."

jonwong@sph.com.sg

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