'Old man' tan keeps pace with the young

William Tan competing in the men's 100m T53 final yesterday. The Singaporean finished seventh but, importantly, he was returning to a sport he had to quit in 2009 after he was diagnosed with cancer.
William Tan competing in the men's 100m T53 final yesterday. The Singaporean finished seventh but, importantly, he was returning to a sport he had to quit in 2009 after he was diagnosed with cancer.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Singaporean gives more accomplished Thais good fight as he shows spirit of participation

The man - who perhaps best exemplifies the Asean Para Games' mantra of breaking down barriers and stereotypes - occupied Lane 3 of the National Stadium track yesterday at 3pm.

To himself, 58-year-old William Tan repeated the phrase "don't false start" at the starting blocks of the men's 100m T53 final.

To his left was Asian record holder and world No. 2 Pichet Krungget.

To his right was another Thai, Paeyo Pongsakorn, a prodigious 19-year-old tipped to be the region's next wheelchair race king.

Tan - who lost the use of his legs to polio at the age of two - is a fierce competitor, holding six wheelchair marathon world records. But even he knew the odds were against him.

RIGHT SPIRIT

This is all about the spirit of participation, showing the younger generation that an old chap like me can still go strong despite all the problems thrown my way.

WILLIAM TAN , S'porean wheelchair racer

A medal was never the top priority anyway for the Games' oldest athletics competitor.

"This is all about the spirit of participation, showing the younger generation that an old chap like me can still go strong despite all the problems thrown my way," the National Cancer Centre physician said later.

He finished seventh in a strong field of eight with a time of 18.77 seconds, shaving 0.45sec off his previous personal best.

But a far more important battle had been won.

Tan had returned to the sport he first fell in love with at 17. He was taken away from it in 2009 after being diagnosed with cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

The side effects of chemotherapy would leave him breathless, dizzy and sunburnt whenever he took his Top End racing wheelchair out for a spin.

In kindergarten, he had bitten the hands of bullies who made fun of his disability. He bared his teeth against cancer as well, and it has been in remission for six years.

Having competed in the past two Games in table tennis, Tan was glad to be back on track - in more ways than one.

"When I was part of Singapore's first Paralympic contingent in 1988, my dream was for our country to one day host a major para-sports event," he said with a wide grin. "Look at where we are now, look at where I am now."

Tan's journey continues in the coming days when he competes in the 200m and 400m races.

As expected, Paeyo stormed to his second gold in as many days in a Games record time of 15.58sec - just 0.25sec ahead of Pichet.

Bronze also went to Thailand, thanks to Intasen Sopa's 16.08sec effort.

Paeyo is ranked in the world's top eight for the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m T53 events.

He bagged two silvers and a bronze at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha in October. In Singapore, he is aiming for a clean sweep.

"I have two more events left so my aim is to keep going fast and return home with four gold medals and plenty of good memories," Paeyo told Thai media.

The kingdom's athletes claimed four other golds to add to the six they won on Friday. But it was Malaysia who ended the day atop the athletics standings.

Boosted by seven golds mainly from the javelin throw, long jump and shot put, their tally is 12 golds, four silvers and four bronzes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline ''OLD MAN' TAN KEEPS PACE WITH THE YOUNG'. Print Edition | Subscribe