Rio Olympics and Paralympics success 'springboard' for Team Singapore

President Tony Tan and his wife Mary with (from far left) swimmers Quah Ting Wen and Quah Zheng Wen, and Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling. President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary with athletes and officials who particip
President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary with athletes and officials who participated in the Rio Olympics and Paralympic Games at the Istana yesterday, where the President hosted a tea reception for them. Dr Tan was generous in his praise for Team Singapore.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
President Tony Tan and his wife Mary with (from far left) swimmers Quah Ting Wen and Quah Zheng Wen, and Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling. President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife Mary with athletes and officials who particip
President Tony Tan and his wife Mary with (from far left) swimmers Quah Ting Wen and Quah Zheng Wen, and Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Athletes toast a landmark year and feel inspired to scale new heights

Following a banner year for Singapore sports at the Olympics and Paralympics, local athletes believe the country's success in Rio de Janeiro could be a springboard for more highs in Tokyo 2020.

At the Rio Games, Joseph Schooling won the Republic's first Olympic gold, while the Paralympic contingent delivered a best-ever medal haul of two golds and a bronze, thanks to swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh.

Yip, 24, said: "2016 showed that Singaporeans have talent and can achieve success, as long as we are committed and persevere.

"With this, hopefully, more athletes will be inspired and believe that we can reach great heights with the nation behind us."

It was a sentiment echoed by Quah Zheng Wen, who qualified for the men's 100m and 200m butterfly semi-finals in Brazil. The 20- year-old narrowly missed out on a top-eight spot in the 200m fly and is seen as a potential medal prospect in Japan.

He said: "To have come that close and missed it is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands. You know you had it, only to have it slip away. But this will only make me look forward to Tokyo 2020. And it makes me really excited to think of what Team Singapore could possibly do there because I think we have a lot of potential and, evidently, Singapore has a lot of talent."

Support from the Government has been forthcoming. Besides the $40-million Sports Excellence (Spex) scholarships that cover financial and training aid, the role of the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) has been critical, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

He hosted the Class of 2016 at a tea reception at the Istana yesterday and was generous in his praise. He said: "I am confident that with such a support structure in place, Team Singapore will continue to reach new heights of achievement."

Plans are already in place to groom the next generation of national athletes keen to leave their mark on the world stage. Last November saw the launch of the National Youth Sports Institute, which provides support for high performing student-athletes.

Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy believes there is more to come. He said: "The key thing is that the resources are being built up, but working together with the coaching teams to actively use all the resources available is very important as well and that is something I think we will see improve as the coaches and athletes continue to work with the SSI."

Recognition of their sacrifices and hard work - like yesterday's light-hearted session which saw 20 Team Singapore Olympians and Paralympians feted by sports officials and Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Grace Fu and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin - helped to fuel them, said Quah.

He added: "Just being recognised for our efforts is really nice and gratifying, and I think this is one of the steps we need to take to bring sports in Singapore to the next level.

"The gratification that you receive is not everything, but it's definitely part of the rewards system that our athletes see. And it's nice - it shows that mindsets are changing and things are moving forward."

Given the sporting milestones they had achieved, the mood at the Istana was festive as the athletes toasted a landmark year.

But they were aware that new challenges were on the horizon and new heights to be scaled.

Para-archer Syahidah Alim, who finished seventh in the women's individual compound open on her Paralympic debut, said: "For all those who wish to qualify or are trying to qualify for upcoming games, especially Tokyo 2020, I say, don't give up.

"Keep pushing hard and be strong, do whatever you can to reach that goal. Here's to paving more milestones for Singapore at the next Games."

•Additional reporting by Chua Siang Yee

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Rio success 'springboard' for Team S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe