Rio Olympics 2016: 2 days to go

Coming of age as a sporting nation

Above: The colours of Singapore were already flying before yesterday's flag-raising ceremony, with 49er FX crew Sara Tan and Griselda Khng practising at the Marina da Gloria over the weekend. Left: Joseph Schooling, swimmer and 100m fly medal prospec
Above: Joseph Schooling, swimmer and 100m fly medal prospect, also got down to business at the pool.PHOTOS: FACEBOOK/SNOC

Singapore eyes bumper crop of medals, as the more experienced Olympians in the team rise in world rankings

Experience might have been the main goal for many of Singapore's past Olympians but the goal posts have moved as the country readies itself for the upcoming Rio Games.

Belief is high within the 25-strong contingent of athletes that the Republic stands on the brink of sporting history as it eyes a record haul of medals at the Summer Games. Singapore has not won more than two medals at a single Games, winning two at London 2012, one at Beijing 2008 and one in Rome 1960.

While the women's table tennis team have been the standard bearers for the past two editions, winning a silver and two bronzes, the likes of swimming, shooting and sailing could see new ground being broken.

Speaking to The Straits Times after yesterday's welcome ceremony at the Games Village Plaza, chef de mission Low Teo Ping said: "This target was unimaginable 10 years ago. Two Olympics ago, we were still counting on wild cards to come and gain some experience.

"But today, we have people on their second or third Olympic campaigns, some with top-10 world rankings, and they stand a good chance...

"The whole paradigm and landscape of sports in Singapore has changed."

Swimmer Joseph Schooling is a medal contender in the 100m butterfly, while breakthrough medals at the ISSF World Cup legs earlier this year signal the strong form of Commonwealth Games shooting champions Jasmine Ser and Teo Shun Xie.


Above: The colours of Singapore were already flying before yesterday's flag-raising ceremony, with 49er FX crew Sara Tan and Griselda Khng practising at the Marina da Gloria over the weekend. PHOTOS: FACEBOOK/SNOC

Nine of Singapore's 10 sailors, which is the biggest squad in the nation's history, qualified on merit and the mood inside the camp is one of quiet confidence, noted Laser sailor Colin Cheng.

The 26-year-old finished 15th in London 2012 - the highest by an Asian in his class - and believes his technique and tactical skills have improved immeasurably.

PARADIGM SHIFT

Two Olympics ago, we were still counting on wild cards to come and gain some experience. But today, we have people on their second or third Olympic campaign, some with top-10 world rankings, and they stand a good chance...

LOW TEO PING , Singapore's Rio Olympics chef de mission

"Of course everyone else has also got better but I feel very ready for these Olympics. I've done everything I can and will give my best out there on the water," he said.

Support has also reached a higher level. The Project 0812, a joint effort by the Singapore National Olympic Council, then-Singapore Sports Council and then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sport, started with $7 million for 22 athletes, ahead of the 2008 and 2012 Games.

It was succeeded by the Olympic Pathway Programme in 2009, which set aside $6.5 million for 11 athletes from four sports, and evolved into the Sports Excellence Scholarship, a $40 million war chest over five years launched in 2013.

Referring to the Rio team, Singapore Sports Institute chief Bob Gambardella yesterday said: "This is the best prepared Team Singapore contingent we've ever sent to the Olympics."

Badminton player Liang Xiaoyu may have taken that to the extreme, choosing to hand-carry 10 racquets - she normally brings five to other tournaments - across four cities. But she was taking no chances. The 20-year-old will compete in the singles event in her Olympic debut.

The world No. 31 said: "I never thought I would play in the Olympics so soon in my career. So I want to be ready for anything."

An Olympic cycle is measured in four years and that was a lot of waiting, noted Games Village mayor Janeth Arcain in her welcome address yesterday.

But it was worth it, added the retired Brazilian basketballer.

"It has been a long time for many of you and a lot of hard work to finally get here," she said. "Enjoy the experience."

That will also be what Singapore's finest will want to do. But they also feel that they are now at a level where just making up the numbers is no longer good enough.

Follow the latest Olympics 2016 news here at str.sg/olympics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Coming of age as a sporting nation'. Print Edition | Subscribe