YOG: Chay not fazed by less hoopla

Four years after charming the world as hosts of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG), Singapore's approach to the second could not be any more different.

As a volunteer in 2010 and now chef de mission of Team Singapore to the Nanjing Games, former national swimmer Mark Chay knows this well.

There is noticeably less buzz about the YOG, with national sports associations (NSAs) focused more on the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Singapore's contingent has also shrunk - from 130 athletes across all 26 sports in 2010 to just 18 in eight sports this time.

"There was a lot of attention from Singaporeans in 2010 because we were hosts and there was extra financial support pumped in for the athletes," he told The Straits Times.

"This time round, it's very different. There is less interest and the YOG is just one of three major Games taking place this year. "There is less emphasis but it's inevitable."

Still, he said that there is no denying the legacy of the YOG which have given young athletes the exposure that he did not get to experience when he was at their age.

Chay recalls being overwhelmed by the crowd when, as a 16-year-old, he competed at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

He said: "But the YOG is this exposure. You're competing against your peers at a place where you have thousands of people watching you. When it happens at the senior-level Games, it's already settled. You don't have to battle your nerves."

The YOG have also become part of the psyche of NSAs, making them more conscious about grooming and preparing their athletes from a younger age.

Said Chay, a former Sportsboy and Sportsman of the Year and former chief executive of the Singapore Hockey Federation: "The YOG can be a stimulus for NSAs to examine their respective junior development pathways.

"It's a good pit stop to see where (their programmes) measure up against the rest of the world.

"It encourages NSAs to think deeply about the long-term development and progression of athletes to the major Games from junior to senior levels."

It meant that even without the luxury of being hosts, Singapore still has a healthy number of athletes who were good enough to earn a place at the YOG on their own merit this time.

A total of 17 athletes made it to Nanjing by edging out some of the world's top junior athletes to meet the qualifying marks while another was awarded an unused quota place.

The feat is commendable considering financial support for this year's Games is less than the $5 million set aside to prepare Singapore's YOG athletes in 2010.

"Although the numbers aren't high, the quality is very much still there," said Chay.

He shied away from setting any medal targets but emphasised that while the level of competition at the YOG is world-class, the Games are much more about just medals.

Singapore won two silvers and five bronzes at the 2010 Games.

"The nature of the YOG is such that it's not just about competition - there's also the Culture and Education Programme aspect.

"It's about going beyond what they're capable of doing - how they carry themselves, what they bring back from the experience and being ambassadors of the sport.

"That's more important to me."


This article was published on Aug 12 in The Straits Times.

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