The Tay family's SEA of gold

As part of Singapore's synchronised swimming teams, Tay Aik Fen won two gold medals at the recent SEA Games.

You can say the 15-year-old is just carrying on the family tradition of winning gold at the Games.

Her father, Dr Tay Khoon Hean, competed in the SEA Games from 1979 to 1987, while her grandfather, Mr Tay Lee Soon, was part of the pioneer water polo team that started the gold medal streak for Singapore in 1965.

The Tays might be Singapore's first three-generation SEA Games gold medallists, having won in three different water sports - water polo, swimming and synchronised swimming.

Despite having nine gold medals to their name, the Tays insist it is not all about winning.

Mr Tay, 79, said: "I always tell them it is not about the victories. It is about the values they learn from the sport."

Determination and discipline were among the values that he hoped his children would cultivate from sports, he added.

His son agrees fully with him.

Dr Tay hoped the skills his three children picked up in their sports would translate into useful guiding principles when they step into the working world.

His son Aik Wen was a competitive swimmer and his older daughter Aik Ping was also a synchronised swimmer.

The 50-year-old surgeon said: "My father's sporting background had shaped him in becoming a successful architect.

"Likewise for me, I treat every surgery like a race. I prepare myself for it and then complete it with confidence."


Dr Tay always tells his children to perform every task to the best of their abilities, be it a competition or an assignment.

To cultivate this attitude in his children, he started exposing them to sports from a young age.

Aik Fen learnt to swim at the age of three. She would often hear stories about her father's and grandfather's sporting achievements.

The teenager, who took up synchronised swimming seven years ago, said: "I looked up to my father and my grandfather, who had done the country proud.

"And I knew that I, too, wanted to represent my country."

Despite her family's golden legacy, she said she did feel pressured.

Her father would tell her to do her best and have fun while competing.

Dr Tay also prepared her mentally by sharing tips on managing stress in competition.

The advice and her disciplined training for up to seven hours daily, six days a week, paid off when she was selected for the national teams that won gold in the team free combination, and team technical and free routine events.

Aik Fen said: "I feel proud to be part of this golden legacy and I am glad all my efforts have paid off."

Dr Tay said he felt extremely proud to see his daughter on the podium at the SEA Games.

"It was one of the best moments for me, watching my daughter on the podium with the flag raised and the crowd singing the National Anthem together," he added.

His wife, also a doctor, was just as proud of Aik Fen.

Dr Cynthia Tay, 50, said: "I am her biggest supporter."

She added that she never liked sports when she was young but realised its importance after meeting her husband.

"There are so many lessons that can be learnt through sports," she said.

"And I hope my children will take these lessons along with them as they grow up."


Mr Tay Lee Soon, 79

Gold medals: Men's Water Polo (1965, 1967 and 1969)

Best memory: 1969, Burma

Mr Tay described it was "a traumatic fight against the Burmese".

The game was nerve-racking as Singapore were a goal behind Burma for most of the game. In the last minute, Singapore scored to beat the hosts 5-4.

"When the goal was scored, I threw my swimming cap in the air and celebrated," said Mr Tay.

It has been 46 years, but he still laughs at the good old times.

He added: "It was definitely one of the best games I have competed in."

Dr Tay Khoon Hean, 50

Gold medals: Men's Swimming 4x100m freestyle relay (1983 and 1985), 4x200m freestyle relay (1983), 4x400m medley relay (1983)

Best memory: Men's Swimming 100m freestyle, 1983, Singapore

After the first lap, Dr Tay was a body length behind Indonesian swimmer Lukman Niode. But he caught up with Lukman to pip him to a silver medal.

Dr Tay said: "It was a good feeling to beat our rivals.

"And, of course, I was proud that Singapore had swept both gold and silver in that event."

Mr Ang Peng Siong won the gold.

Tay Aik Fen, 15

Gold medals: Synchronised Swimming team free combination, and team technical and free routine (2015)

Best memory: Four years ago, Aik Fen was among the hundreds of supporters in Palembang, Indonesia, cheering for Singapore's synchronised swimming team.

Among the swimmers was her sister Aik Ping, who was then 17.

This year, Aik Fen was the one with the honour of representing Singapore.

She said: "I was proud to be a Singaporean when I heard the home crowd cheering for us.

"I am happy to have won gold for Singapore."

This article was first published on June 18, 2015.
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