A tribute to stars past and present

In life, and perhaps especially so in sport, one cannot truly appreciate the present without acknowledging the deeds of the past.

We now cheer swimmer Joseph Schooling and his gold-medal exploits. But before him, Pat Chan, who would retire with 39 SEA Games titles, was the original golden one.

High jumper Michelle Sng may be aiming for SEA Games gold now but her path to success was aided by the 61 Asean track and field champions before her.

It is why, with the SEA Games returning to our shores for a fourth time next month, we collected SEA Games champions, icons from four different generations, to discuss the journey their sport has taken.

Here was footballer Seak Poh Leong, 62, telling Irfan Fandi, 17, what it was like to play before a packed National Stadium four decades ago, when Singapore had hosted its maiden regional games in 1973.

Here was Joscelin Yeo, 36, winner of 40 SEA Games swimming golds, discussing what it takes to be a champion with Quah Zheng Wen, 18, who is aiming for titles of his own next month.

Here was experience and youth, wisdom and ambition, legends and rising stars all in one place.

In this tracing of sporting journeys, we chose four sports:

Swimming, sailing and athletics because they have been successful, winning 1,020 medals, including 377 golds, between them since 1959.

The fourth sport was football, which has not won a gold, yet remains a sport that is tightly connected to our sporting culture.

And so these athletes, from various generations, met on a track and by the sea, by the pool and on a field.

Youngers ones were teased for "having it good" by the old-timers from the era when running spikes were actually nails hammered into a shoe.

There were fierce debates and laughter. But always, no matter young or old, there was passion and a genuine love for the game.

In a year when Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee, there will be many tributes paid to the country's pioneers.

But the best ones will probably be heard in sporting arenas across the island next month, when we roar on the present.

It is the perfect way to honour those who have left their footprints on the Games, ones that have helped the present generation take bigger, bolder strides.

marclim@sph.com.sg