One swimmer, one nation - Seismic 2016: Singapore sport

Moved to tears by a man in water

Schooling in Brazil earlier this year after winning the 100m butterfly. Tied for silver were (from left) Michael Phelps of the US, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary.
Schooling in Brazil earlier this year after winning the 100m butterfly. Tied for silver were (from left) Michael Phelps of the US, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary.PHOTO: REUTERS

When Schooling raced past Olympian greats to clinch S'pore's first gold, he galvanised the spirit of a whole nation

Sport ostensibly brings people together and yet its purpose is to separate talent. It is an inclusive pastime which is full of exclusive clubs. Only eight nations have won football's World Cup and only five have won cricket's equivalent. For years wherever I went, I got the same annoying sporting question: So many Indians, not even one individual Olympic gold medal?

Trophies and medals don't make us better nations, just briefly happier and united ones. We like to see one of our own recognised for his talent. We like to believe that in water, land or air that we are no less.

When an Indian did win gold, in 2008, I wasn't there at his event. But I was for Joseph Schooling and I got to see from close quarters what a first gold means to a people.

On a day of so many images, one will stay forever. Of my colleague, May Chen, standing and crying as the anthem played. She'd heard about this moment, she'd seen it on TV, she'd read about it, all this stuff about anthems and podiums and flags and goosebumps. But it was always for someone else. Now it was her flag, her anthem, her swimmer and her goosebumps. Of course she cried.

 

I remember putting my arm around her, emotional myself, not just because of a race won, and a swimmer's dream achieved, but also because of what it meant to my friend. A woman moved to tears by a man in water.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'Moved to tears by a man in water'. Print Edition | Subscribe