Athletics: Singapore legend Chee Swee Lee wants successor Dipna Lim-Prasad to be an inspiration to others

Dipna Lim-Prasad broke Chee Swee Lee's national record for the women's 400m, which stood for 43 years, on Aug 24.
Dipna Lim-Prasad broke Chee Swee Lee's national record for the women's 400m, which stood for 43 years, on Aug 24. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The clock read 55.08 seconds as a then 19-year-old Chee Swee Lee crossed the finish line at the Asian Games in Teheran in 1974.

A national record for the women's 400m was set, and the time would stand for 43 years - until Dipna Lim-Prasad's 54.18sec performance on Thursday night finally smashed it.

"Naturally, I'm of two minds in this regard. I'm both happy and sad," said Chee, now 62, in an e-mail interview from Las Vegas, where she is based.

"Happy because a hardworking young Singaporean athlete like Dipna has risen to the apex of her track career and won a medal for her country in an important meet like the SEA Games.

"A little sad because I have had the great honour of holding the record for 43 years and must now, 'pass the torch' to the younger generation. Most of all, I'm happy that Singapore track and field continues to progress at this high level."

Chee, the first Singaporean woman to win an athletics gold at the Asian Games, described her victory in 1974 as "the greatest moment of her track career".

Going into the race, she was "totally prepared", but had to face Japanese Nabujo Kawano, who had the best time going into the final.

" I had been training with my coach Patrick Zehnder who was one of the best strategists in this event, to run first two 200m and second 200m as close as possible to equal time of 27sec to achieve the 55sec mark."

"The design of the track in Teheran was such that it had an unusually long curve and the straight was rather short," explained Chee. "Knowing this, I started my usual last 100m kick early and hit the finishing line ahead of the field, thereby winning the 400m gold medal."

It was "mission accomplished" for Chee and for Singapore.

Chee, a real estate agent who is active in the Singapore Association of Nevada, has not had the opportunity to congratulate Lim-Prasad yet.

She said: "I would offer her my most sincere congratulations on a job well done and encourage her to continue to strive for even greater heights in her running career.

"Hold the record with honour and pride and become an inspiration for other young Singaporean athletes dreaming of achieving great things."

Chee also praised the national set-up and its efforts in "producing quality athletes throughout the country". Patrick Zehnder, her former coach, still keeps in contact with her amid this "competitive sports resurgence" in Singapore.

"With this being the case, it is more likely, in my opinion, that another athlete may, even as we speak, be in serious training with an eye toward breaking Dipna's new standard," she said. "Only time will tell, however, and I hope that she will get to be the record holder for a good, long time."