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Hockey: Olympic champ Sam Quek's Singapore story

Britain's Sam Quek (centre) and team-mates celebrate winning gold after defeating the Netherlands in the hockey final at the Rio Olympics.
Britain's Sam Quek (centre) and team-mates celebrate winning gold after defeating the Netherlands in the hockey final at the Rio Olympics. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Sam Quek (third from left) with some of her Singapore family at Changi Airport in 2010. Her brothers - Michael (third from right) and Shaun (extreme right) - also made the trip to their father's native country that year. Below: Marilyn and Albe
Sam Quek (third from left) with some of her Singapore family at Changi Airport in 2010. Her brothers - Michael (third from right) and Shaun (extreme right) - also made the trip to their father's native country that year. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM QUEK
Marilyn and Albert Quek, parents of Sam, with her Olympic gold medal from Rio de Janeiro.
Marilyn and Albert Quek, parents of Sam, with her Olympic gold medal from Rio de Janeiro.PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM QUEK

British hockey star Sam Quek reveals why S'pore can take some credit for her Rio gold

On an August day, a Singaporean father watched his child reach the top step of the Olympic podium in Rio de Janeiro.

His name was not Colin Schooling, but Albert Quek.

Britain had won the women's hockey gold by beating defending champions the Netherlands 2-0 in a penalty shoot-out after the final finished 3-3 in normal time. And Quek's daughter, Sam, was the defensive bedrock of the team that went unbeaten in Brazil.

Sam's star has continued to rise after her exploits in Brazil.

The 28-year-old was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in Queen Elizabeth's New Year's Honours List along with her 15 team-mates following their Rio heroics, and she recently appeared on the British reality TV show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here.

When asked last week how much she identifies as a Singaporean, she told The Straits Times: "I'm very proud of my heritage and I always tell people I'm half-Singaporean, half-English, so I'd say 50 per cent."

  • Three things to know about Quek

  • She is a huge Liverpool fan and will be working for LFC TV Sam and her two brothers started supporting Liverpool as kids because their father supports the Reds. Her English mum and her side of the family are all Everton fans.

    Starting this Thursday, Sam will be working for the Reds' channel LFC TV, presenting the Thursday Night Show and interviewing players.

    She used to play football for Tranmere Rovers Ladies During family barbeques growing up, Quek used to play football in the garden because they needed an extra player. When she was 11, Tranmere wanted her to play for them and she featured in their girls' team.

    She got into the Tranmere Ladies' team when she was 16. That year, however, she had to choose between football and hockey and opted for the latter. She started playing hockey when she was 10. A physical education teacher spotted her talent and urged her to go for trials with a club.

    She appeared on the British reality TV show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here Quek featured in the 16th series, which began airing late last year. She finished fourth among 12 contestants, which included former England footballer Wayne Bridge (sixth).

She almost showed it in Rio too.

She had a flag that was half the Singapore flag and half the Union Jack sewn together, in case her dream of becoming an Olympic champion collided with destiny.

But when that moment arrived on Aug 19, Olympic rules prohibited her from carrying the combined flag.

Still, she believes some credit for her gold belongs to the Lion City.

"My genes come from my father and mother (Marilyn)," said Sam, who has a sister Maxine, 46; older brother Michael, 34; and twin brother Shaun, 28. "So the fact that my dad is fully from Singapore, then of course, definitely. I know my dad used to swim a lot, he cycled a lot around Singapore when he was younger, so I think I get a lot of my sporting side from my dad."

One of the first things she did at the Rio Athletes' Village was to swop pins with someone from the Singapore delegation - "That was the No. 1 on my list," she enthused. 

Even though her father is now a British citizen and she has never lived in Singapore, Sam said she "holds Singapore very close to my heart". She counts one uncle, five aunts, and even more cousins as family she has here.

INCREDIBLE SCHOOLING

I always remember the picture of him with Michael Phelps when he was younger. And I thought it's just incredible that he's gone from someone so young and thought, 'I want to be the next world champion or Olympic champion' and how years down the line he actually achieved that dream. It's an absolutely incredible story, especially from Singapore because Singapore is so small.

SAM QUEK, British hockey star, on Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling.

Born in Wirral, some 10km from Liverpool, she first visited Singapore as a 10-year-old. Her second and last trip here was in 2010.

She said her hockey commitments had prevented her from returning to Singapore more often. But she is looking forward to another visit and would "love the opportunity" to do some coaching here and help raise the profile of the sport.

The 1.69m-tall defender hopes to be an inspiration to Singaporeans.

"With Singapore hockey not being on the world stage at the moment, I think I see myself as a role model for any child growing up playing hockey," said one of the world's best tacklers in a Scouse accent.

"I'm just a normal girl who chased my dream and I'm still a normal girl now even though I have a gold medal and an MBE.

AT A CROSSROADS

"If I retire, it would be to have a nice career in sports or working with communities or schools to promote hockey or promote the way of thinking what you can achieve. Also to spread the word across (Britain), if not the world. If I did (continue playing hockey), I would probably have a look at 2020 in Tokyo."

QUEK, on her future.

"It's very important to make youngsters and girls my age realise that. Everybody is a person. It just depends what you decide to do with your life and whether you give up or not."

Give up? She never knew how.

During the Champions Trophy in 2014, she broke two ribs during England's opener against Australia. But she played on, featuring in all five of her team's remaining matches as England finished fifth in Mendoza, Argentina.

"It must have been the adrenalin and I didn't want to let my team down, because I was captain and I felt like I had to lead from the front," she said, adding that wearing the armband represented the highlight of her career.

Her broken ribs and other injuries almost led to her missing out on a maiden Olympic appearance for the third time, after she was not selected for the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 London Games.

Despite being down in the pecking order when she returned to training in March 2015, she fought her way back into the squad for the European Championship five months later. She was Player of the Match in England's final victory over the Netherlands, then the world champions.

"The biggest lesson I learnt was to never give up," said Quek, who has a combined 128 caps for England and Britain.

She admitted that some of the doubts she harboured during the tough times stemmed from being of Asian descent.

"If I'm honest, yes, because in England you rarely see any Chinese, Singaporean, Asian players. It is very, very rare," she said. "And internationally, I think I was one of the first (players) of Singaporean descent to ever represent Britain, let alone win a gold medal.

"So when you don't have any role models from a similar background as you or same ethnicity, then you might doubt yourself. Well, there's nobody else here so maybe it's not meant to be or maybe they don't want someone who looks Chinese in their team, so of course you sometimes have doubts because you never have a role model to look up to."

Just as well then that she has set an example.

Since the first women's Olympic hockey competition was held at the 1980 Moscow Games, no Asian team has won gold. But a player of Asian descent - a player of Singaporean descent - has.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Olympic champ's Singapore story'. Print Edition | Subscribe