Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee Kuan Yew: A source of inspiration for Singapore sports

Former national hurdler Osman Merican won three medals at the 1965 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games but his most treasured memento was a signed letter he received from former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew when he returned from the Kuala Lumpur meet.

In it, Mr Lee praised the former police constable, who was 26 then, for his fighting spirit and hoped that athletes like himself would be able to inspire other Singaporeans, particularly given the uncertainty of the times as it came just months after the country had separated from Malaysia.

Mr Lee wrote: "I would like you to know that your performance brought into focus the qualities of discipline, stamina and talent which will enable the people of Singapore to overcome so many of their present difficulties and secure our future as a nation."

Those words became a source of inspiration for Mr Osman, now a 75-year-old retiree. It provided him the impetus to push himself both on the sporting front - he would set the national record in the 110m hurdles (14.76sec) at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok - as well as in his professional career in the police force.

Mr Osman said on Wednesday: "Reading what Mr Lee wrote motivated me to believe that I could be more than what I felt I was capable of achieving. I eventually managed to get a scholarship from the police force for a higher education and rose to become an acting assistant superintendent before I retired."

Examples of Mr Lee's impact on the local sports fraternity continued well into the new millennium. In 2008 when the Republic won the bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) two years later, Mr Lee was already looking ahead.

Recalled Mr Ng Ser Miang, who sat on the executive board of the International Olympic Committee: "I remember receiving a 2am e-mail from him (Mr Lee) immediately after we won the bid. He gave me advice on how we should organise the Games and how we project the nation to the world.

"During the YOG, at the age of 86, he turned up to officiate at the final leg of the Journey of the Youth Olympic Flame. Then again at the Closing Ceremony, he made an unscheduled visit to the Floating Platform to satisfy himself that we have hosted the world well. I was very touched with his support and presence. He never stopped believing in doing everything right for Singapore."

Singapore's star footballer of the 1970s, Quah Kim Song, also recalled: "After we won the Malaysia Cup in 1977, (former Law Minister) E.W. Barker invited the whole team to the Istana to meet Mr Lee. Honestly, I felt a little apprehensive because of his stature. This is a man who built the country and is a man of principles. When he met the team, he congratulated us for bringing the cup back and to see this great man is a big enough reward for us.

"Mr Lee had done so much for Singapore. Words cannot describe this loss to the country. But he deserves a good rest for all the hard work he had done for every Singaporean."