Back in familiar setting with broader responsibility

They were top regional athletes competing for gold when Singapore last hosted the SEA Games in 1993. Now they are back in town, 22 years after their initial sporting exploits, continuing their involvement in sport. One is long-retired, while the other two are still going strong but ready to call it a day. The Straits Times recounts the trio’s careers after 1993

AKIKO THOMSON, RETIRED FILIPINO SWIMMER

IT HAS been 22 years since the last SEA Games in Singapore, and the only thing that Akiko Thomson remembers is the outdoor swimming pool (the Toa Payoh Swimming Complex).

The 40-year-old retired swim star is now back in the Republic, this time as a member of a government commission in the Philippines and is fully immersed in the spirit of the Games.

She told The Straits Times: "It is a broader feel, it is not just swimming, but I am here to support all the athletes.

"There is more responsibility in that regard.

"When you are an athlete, you are swimming for your country and you are focused on one task. But, as an official, there are other concerns, the coaches, athletes, media."

Without the pressure to win golds, Thomson is now able to pick and choose the sports she wishes to watch - like any other eager spectator.

Added Thomson, who took part in five SEA Games starting from 1987, winning seven golds in all: "It was so exciting just watching the athletes compete. When I was at the athletics the other day, I felt so proud hearing the national anthem played. A few days ago, I lost my voice cheering for a girl at the pool.

"It is so special to be able to be here and still be involved in the SEA Games experience. For many of these athletes, it is a life-changing experience."

She took part in her first Olympics, Seoul 1988, when she was just 13 and retired in 1996 after her third Games, in Atlanta.

The half-Japanese, half-American swimmer, who is a naturalised Filipino after moving to the country at just six months old, is currently running a swim school in Makati, Manila, with her husband.

She has two sons, aged two and four. "I want my kids to be water-proficient, but ultimately it is still up to them if they wish to swim competitively. My four-year-old even taught himself how to swim the butterfly," she said.

Since learning how to swim at six, Thomson has had no regrets.

"One thing I am very thankful for is that I retired from swimming still very passionate about it and not burnt out," she said. "I still swim, but I do it for my fitness now."

chongcjy@sph.com.sg

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