Handle success, failure with grace and dignity

National swimmer Quah Ting Wen wrote a heartfelt Facebook note in defence of her brother, fellow national swimmer Zheng Wen, who drew some flak for declining to speak to the media after one event at the Rio Olympics.

In her Facebook post, which was shared by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, Ting Wen also talked about the joys and anguish of competition.

Any athlete who represents his country in any sport carries the entire weight of the nation on his shoulders. As much as these athletes' successes are lauded and celebrated, and just as no one will deny the victor the spoils, so, too, are failures shunned and lambasted.

It is an unfortunate by-product of life in the limelight and as the guardian of a populace's hopes and dreams that an athlete also attracts the public's ire and fire.

It takes extreme courage to represent one's nation and great strength to bear both the extremities of success and the consequence of failure.

Joseph Schooling's Olympic gold medal accomplishment, which almost destroyed his privacy and private life in Singapore, was borne with magnificent grace and dignity.

And the swimmer has effectively set the benchmark for what we expect from those who represent us - be they successful or not as successful.

Success or failure needs to be handled with the same grace and dignity. We all understand the pressures that the Quah siblings have had to endure.

But in the end, like everything in life, succeed or fail, they will be hounded by the same faceless naysayers and keyboard warriors who will have something - ranging from the extreme positive to the extreme negative - to say about it.

Singapore's table-tennis players are prime victims of these anonymous trolls.

To Ting Wen, and the Quah siblings in general, I say this: You are absolutely correct. You do need a "bak kwa" skin to survive the tempest when you want to carry the weight of a nation's expectations.

But I urge them to carry on, to find the courage and the strength, and, in times of despair, to look to Joseph Schooling.

There is equally great reward for those who persist and endure the storm.

Boon Chin Aun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Handle success, failure with grace and dignity'. Print Edition | Subscribe