Looking forward: The sports arena - Singapore sport

All eyes on our brightest hopes for Olympic glory

Swimmer Joseph Schooling (left) and Laser Standard sailor Colin Cheng have blazed a trail last year.
Swimmer Joseph Schooling (above) and Laser Standard sailor Colin Cheng have blazed a trail last year.
Swimmer Joseph Schooling (left) and Laser Standard sailor Colin Cheng have blazed a trail last year.
Swimmer Joseph Schooling and Laser Standard sailor Colin Cheng have blazed a trail last year.

Athletes gear up for Rio Games as moves to produce world-beaters are rolled out this year

The arrival of another year always signifies new starts and fresh beginnings. In many ways, 2016 represents a step into uncharted territory for Singapore sport.

In an Olympic year - sport's grandest show will take place in Rio de Janeiro in August - the spotlight will no doubt fall on the Republic's brightest hopes.

Singapore has now returned from two successive Games with medals, thanks to the national women's table tennis team. This time, however, there is a glimmer of hope that glory will hail from the pool.

Should Joseph Schooling accomplish this feat, it would represent Singapore's first Olympic medal in swimming, a highly competitive sport long dominated by the Western world. There would also be immense significance in an achievement by a local-born athlete.

  • The year ahead

    • Table tennis has been delivering the goods at the past two Olympics. But this year, it could be swimmer Joseph Schooling and sailor Colin Cheng who shine the brightest.

    • The new National Youth Sports Institute will begin operations with the hopes of catering better to elite youth athletes and help produce more world-class talent.

    • In sports administration, new leadership at Singapore Sports Hub and the Football Association of Singapore could bring needed lifts.

For a small nation like Singapore, which faces the challenges of a limited talent pool and competing commitments like studies and national service, a dream like this has for long been unthinkable, perhaps even unrealistic.

But Schooling's historic bronze medal in the 100m butterfly at the 2015 World Championships, when he clocked the year's fourth-fastest time of 50.96 seconds, has given the country the audacity to desire, hope and believe.

The 20-year-old said he has never poured as much of himself into anything as strongly as he is doing now. That means working harder than ever in and out of the pool and, for the first time, paying close attention to what he fuels his body with.

He told The Sunday Times: "Now that I've proved that I can be in the mix at a world stage, it's given me a lot of confidence going into the Olympics... I want to at least (make the) podium in Rio and the only way to achieve that is to keep working hard and find new ways to better myself."

Out of the pool, Singapore's sailors are also venturing into new waters - that of Guanabara Bay in south-east Brazil.

Not simply because Singapore will be fielding its biggest team yet, with eight sailors competing across five classes, or that each of them qualified on merit. A string of positive results on the world stage in recent months also suggest that at least one of them has what it takes to contend with the world's best.

On his Olympic debut in 2012, men's Laser Standard sailor Colin Cheng, 26, posted a creditable 15th-place finish, the Republic's best result on that stage.

He still has to go through internal trials conducted by the Singapore Sailing Federation to confirm his berth, but he has shown that he is on the right track.

Cheng won the Melbourne World Cup last month and is now ranked an all-time high of world No. 13 in what is arguably the most competitive of the Olympic classes.

 

He said: "I am very happy with the way I'm sailing at the moment, but (there are) still plenty of improvements to be made if I'm to catch the top Australians... My recent results have given me confidence that the time spent training with (coach) Brett Beyer has been very productive and I have the ability to put a good regatta together."

To produce more world-beaters like Schooling and Cheng in the future, new initiatives will begin this year.

The new National Youth Sports Institute is starting operations with the hope of breaking new ground in Singapore's elite youth sports system. Serving both the Singapore Sports School and mainstream schools, it aims to give young athletes more customised support in the hopes of unearthing and nurturing tomorrow's sporting heroes.

Even in local sports administration, the theme of fresh beginnings rings true.

The year 2015 was one where the Singapore Sports Hub was beleaguered by negative headlines.

It had problems ranging from a sandy field to a leaky roof, a cost disagreement that jeopardised where the nation's birthday bash would be held, and frosty relations between members of its top management.

Its new chief executive officer Manu Sawhney must also be hoping that the start of another year truly brings with it a new slate to begin a fresh footing on.

At the Football Association of Singapore, 2016 will be the year when an amendment to its Constitution will pave the way for its first elected president. For a sport that is easily the country's most loved, yet is in dire need of a lift in both standards and spirits, the change in leadership at football's national governing body will hopefully mean the start of repair and revitalisation.

Forays into new territory are often filled with uncertainty.

But therein also lies the promise of reward - that the journey into the unknown will lead to greater heights for Singapore sport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'All eyes on our brightest hopes for Olympic glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe