When I was an Olympian: Three Singaporeans share their unforgettable moments

Koh Eng Kian still has the invitation to prove that he attended a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh aboard the royal yacht Britannia during the Montreal Olympics.
Koh Eng Kian still has the invitation to prove that he attended a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh aboard the royal yacht Britannia during the Montreal Olympics.PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The Olympics is the pinnacle of an athlete's career. Singapore has sent athletes to the Summer Games since London 1948 and has a modest haul of two silvers and two bronzes. What has been worth its weight in gold however, has been the memories garnered from these experiences. Jonathan Wong and Yogaraj Panditurai speak to three former Olympians about their unforgettable moments.

Olympics: Moment of pride at being the flag-bearer

What a year 1976 was for me. I had won the gold medal at the Bangkok South-east Asian Peninsular Games (Seap) Games the previous year and then a big local tournament and suddenly out of nowhere, I was selected to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games.

Even my mother could not believe it. She saw my name on the evening news and thought I had got into trouble until I came home after national service and explained what had happened.

It was a small contingent sent to Montreal (runner Chee Swee Lee, shooter Frank Oh and weightlifter Chua Koon Siong) and it took us forever to fly to Canada. We made stops in New Delhi, Moscow, London and Boston.

 

I was the youngest team member at 19. So I was shocked when the chef de mission Tang Tuck Wah told me that I would be the flag-bearer during the opening ceremony. I thought he would ask one of the more senior athletes.

Even though I was nervous, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I still have a picture of it.

The Games Village was an incredible place. I remember having lunch with that famous Russian weightlifter (Vasily Alekseyev) in the dining hall. I sat next to him and he ate four steaks. I could not believe my eyes.

  • KOH ENG KIAN

  • AGE: 59
    OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION: Montreal 1976 - judo (18th overall in half- heavyweight class)

Another highlight was that, as part of the Commonwealth, the Singapore team were invited for a dinner reception with Queen Elizabeth and her husband aboard their yacht, which was a huge and fantastic vessel.

I still have the original invitation. My mother had it laminated when I came home.

My first bout was a walkover and I progressed to the second round and faced a guy from Panama (Jorge Comrie).

I was too anxious and I was over-confident. I injured my left elbow very early in the match but I refused to quit. I lasted the full six minutes but ended up losing by a quarter point.

The result was a bit disappointing and I spent the rest of the Games going to see the doctor several times.

But I tried my best and that was good enough for me.


Barefooted, but feeling covered in glory


At the 1972 Olympics, P.C. Suppiah clocked 31min 59.2sec in the 10,000m race, breaking his own national record. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

With my bare feet, I stepped onto the track in Munich's Olympiastadion and headed towards the start point for my 10,000m heat.

The other runners stared at me, wondering if I was either crazy or just plain poor to turn up with no footwear. A few thought I was from a poverty-stricken part of India.

Even the race officials were worried. One came up to me - then just a slender 23-year-old standing at 1.68m - and said: "You forgot your shoes! Don't worry, we'll wait for you to go back and grab them."

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Overcoming snags to reach field of dreams


Ajit Singh Gill, 88, was 28 when he represented Singapore in hockey at the Melbourne Games. A fete and funfair was held to raise funds for the trip. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The 1956 Olympics will always have a special place in my heart. I will forever remember it as an event which brought everyone together from all walks of life.

I was part of the largest Olympic contingent in the Republic's history. There were 52 of us from six different sports. Of course, it was only possible because Singapore sent out an 11-man basketball squad, an 11-man water polo team and the largest of them all - the 18-member hockey team.

It was also the one and only time in our history that Singapore competed in those three sports at the Olympics. I'm proud to have made a mark for my country on the world stage in hockey.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'Moment of pride at being the flag-bearer'. Print Edition | Subscribe