One swimmer, one nation - Seismic 2016: Singapore sport

I was there when history was made

Joseph Schooling celebrating after winning the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug 12, 2016.
Joseph Schooling celebrating after winning the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug 12, 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

Memory fades and so years from now, I might not recall that momentous minute as vividly as I do now. I may forget the rawness of it all; the nerves first, then relief, joy, disbelief and pride.

But even if my memory dims, one thing I cannot forget: how great a privilege it was to have been there that night.

Unlike most spectators who were at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium that cool, breezy night in Rio, for me this was not simply a special swim with an unbelievable result. My shared nationality with the swimmer and my proximity to his feat meant it went far beyond that.

We often hear of pivotal moments in history - of wars started and ended, of great speeches given and awards handed out - but rarely do we actually get to see them live.

 

Yet there I was, a Singaporean, standing in an arena that was toasting Singapore's historic triumph. It was so surreal.

The flag that was raised was Schooling's flag and also mine.

We were singing our anthem, which was played because of him.

I cried as I surveyed the arena, doing my best to soak it in and memorise every detail.

For the rest of my life, I will hear people talk about that night. Where were you, they might ask.

And I, lucky and blessed, will say: I was there.

Witness to history.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'I was there when history was made'. Print Edition | Subscribe