I remember: Winning gold at the SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur

Golden Girl does a new nation proud

A young Patricia Chan had reason to beam as Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok looked at the eight gold medals the 11-year-old won at the 1965 SEAP Games. Altogether, Chan (right, in later years) won 39 golds at five SEAP Games (later the SEA Gam
A young Patricia Chan had reason to beam as Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok looked at the eight gold medals the 11-year-old won at the 1965 SEAP Games. Altogether, Chan ( in later years) won 39 golds at five SEAP Games (later the SEA Games) and was Sportswoman Of Year from 1967 to 1971.ST FILE PHOTO
A young Patricia Chan had reason to beam as Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok looked at the eight gold medals the 11-year-old won at the 1965 SEAP Games. Altogether, Chan (right, in later years) won 39 golds at five SEAP Games (later the SEA Gam
A young Patricia Chan had reason to beam as Minister for Social Affairs Othman Wok looked at the eight gold medals the 11-year-old won at the 1965 SEAP Games. Altogether, Chan (above, in later years) won 39 golds at five SEAP Games (later the SEA Games) and was Sportswoman Of Year from 1967 to 1971.ST FILE PHOTO

As an 11-year-old, Patricia Chan made a big splash at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games in Kuala Lumpur in December 1965, winning gold in all eight swimming events that she took part in.

Singapore finished third overall behind Thailand and Malaysia at the third SEAP Games, held from Dec 14 to Dec 21.

Straits Times sports journalist Norman Siebel lauded Singapore's breakthrough in swimming, after it bagged 18 golds.

"Singapore sport in the past 12 months was largely the success story of their young swimmers, with 17-year-old Tan Thuan Heng and and 11-year-old Patricia Chan peerless among them," he wrote.

Tan won four individual gold medals and one in the relay, while Chan won six individual gold medals and two in relays.

Recalling the 1965 SEAP Games, Chan, now 61 and a media specialist, noted that nobody knew about Singapore swimming before the Games.

She said it also marked the first time that she and her coach - her father Chan Ah Kow - had tested their collaboration at an international competition, which was built on his coaching methods and her hard work and discipline.

"My dad was absolutely key to my success," she told The Sunday Times. "As a young person, you are more dependent on your coach, but of course in later Games, it became a lot more self-driven.

" Not that I wasn't self-driven. I was a very determined child. Given a task, I will always do my darnedest best to achieve."

Chan went on to win 39 golds at five SEAP Games (later the SEA Games) and was Sportswoman Of Year from 1967 to 1971. She retired from swimming at age 19 in 1973.

She said the 1965 Games were significant as Singapore had gained independence just a few months before, and it was important for the nation to have a good showing.

She was dubbed the Golden Girl after her wins.

But with it came a lot of press and pressure too.

She said: "By the time it was done, in my mind, it was a milestone achievement. What came along with that milestone... were a lot of press, a lot of attention and a lot of expectations.

"People asking you questions, shouting at you. As an 11-year old, that's a lot to deal with."

AVALANCHE OF ATTENTION

By the time it was done, in my mind, it was a milestone achievement. What came along with that milestone... were a lot of press, a lot of attention and a lot of expectations. People asking you questions, shouting at you. As an 11-year old, that's a lot to deal with. 

MS PATRICIA CHAN, on her big splash at the SEAP Games, and putting Singapore on the region's swimming map.

Asked if she remembered any race at the 1965 Games, she said: "The races were exhilarating because when every race happened, you ticked off your list of must-dos.

"But for me, what it is, what it always has been - it's always about team work, sharing. I had the first taste of it in a real sense because it was a big international competition," she added.

Chan said she still keeps in touch with friends from the swimming fraternity. "Swimming is a very strong fraternity. It's sort of a lifetime fraternity and I am very proud to be part of that."

Ho Ai Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'I remember: Winning gold at the SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur This week in 1965: A look back at the events that shaped Singapore 50 years ago Golden Girl does a new nation proud'. Print Edition | Subscribe