Surprises and shocks in Singapore sports 2016

The year 2016 was just seven-and-a-half months old when millions around the world bore witness to the biggest sporting accomplishment in Singapore's history.

The day: Friday, Aug 12. The venue: The Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It is the men's 100-metre butterfly swimming final at the Olympic Games in Brazil.

The hot favourite to win it all is Michael Phelps. The American is the most decorated Olympian of all time by far, and he wants to retire from his final Olympics with another shiny gold medal around his neck.

Singapore's 21-year-old wonder boy, Joseph Schooling, had other ideas that day. He needed just 50.39 seconds - a national, Asian and Olympic record - to finish first in a crowded pool of stars. That sensational feat relegated his childhood hero Phelps, along with Laszlo Cseh and Chad le Clos, to a three-way tie for the silver.

Scores of Singaporeans - glued to their TV screens thousands of miles back home - erupted in joy when Schooling touched home to clinch the Republic's first-ever Olympic gold medal.

The Sports Excellence scholar's photos were splashed across the front pages of newspapers here the next morning and the story also received top billing on news broadcasts in all languages. Schooling went on an open-top bus parade across the island and was feted at every stop along the way.

For his efforts, Schooling became the first athlete to cash in on the Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) multi-million dollar awards programme.

He didn't get to keep all of it, though. The SNOC's rules state that all recipients have to donate 20 per cent of their awards to their respective sports association - in his case, the Singapore Swimming Association - for its training and development schemes.

The issue of prize money for Singapore's athletes came to the fore after the Paralympics, which saw Team Singapore swimmers Yip Pin Xiu bag two gold medals and Theresa Goh earn a bronze.

Photo: The Straits Times

A big debate ensued as to whether Paralympians and Olympians should receive the same monetary rewards. For the record, Olympians get S$1 million for a gold, S$500,000 for a silver and S$250,000 for a bronze. Paralympians, however, get S$200,000, S$100,000 and S$50,000 respectively. Kudos to to Yip and Goh - both also Sports Excellence scholars - for insisting that they are not swimming for the sake of money. Instead, their biggest wish is to have greater visibility and acceptance, and to be regarded as on a par with their able-bodied counterparts.

Another famous Singaporean Olympian, paddler Feng Tianwei, made the headlines in 2016 for both the right and wrong reasons.

In October, the Singapore Table Tennis Association gave the 30-year-old the boot from the national team, a move that sent shockwaves throughout Singapore's sports realm. The official reason by the association was that Feng did not fit into its plans for rejuvenation.

There were other tales swirling around, that of Feng having a lack of respect for authority, making false reimbursement claims, and causing disputes over prize money.

The world No 6 didn't let the controversy affect her too much. Just six weeks after her sacking, she stunned the Olympics champion and world's top player Ding Ning at the Chinese Table Tennis Super League - the highest-level of league competition in the sport in China.

Feng's joy was shortlived. Days later, she crashed out of the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour Grand Finals following a shock loss to Japanese teenager Miu Hirano in the first round.

In terms of large-scale events, Singapore hosted another successful round of the Formula 1 night race in September and the BNP Paribas Women's Tennis Association Finals in October. Several of the major banks also staged their respective events throughout the year. Among them: DBS held its fifth Marina Regatta in April, OCBC organised its second OCBC Cycle in October, while Standard Chartered celebrated the 15th anniversary of its marathon in December.

It was a mixed year for the Singapore Sports Hub, the S$1.3 billion facility in Kallang where many of the country's sporting events are held.

The National Stadium was the venue for this year's National Day Parade for the first time in a decade, while Madonna and Jay Chou came to town for sold-out concerts that were marred by complaints of the poor sound system.

The 55,000-seater stadium didn't stage as many football matches as fans would have liked. The national football team played just once there all year, a friendly match with Causeway rivals Malaysia in October that ended in a limp 0-0 draw.

One of the highlights for the Sports Hub was its three Community Play Days, which saw tens of thousands of people flock to its various venues to experience a slew of sporting and family-oriented activities.

The Hub's calendar for 2017 is fast shaping up with a number of big musical acts already on the confirmed list. Coldplay's two dates on March 31 and April 1 are long sold out, as are Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung's three shows at the Indoor Stadium.

The months of March, April and May will see plenty of rugby action from the Super Rugby championship and Rugby 7s. There's talk that Spanish football club Valencia could play a pre-season game in the summer, but what would really light up the venue is a glamour fixture involving the English Premier League's biggest teams.

Singapore could also see its final Grand Prix in September 2017 as that is the last edition on the current contract. The event has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar since 2008 and it it is still uncertain whether the world's only night race has a future in the Lion City as renewal talks continue.

This article was first published on Dec 24, 2016.
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