SEA Games 2017

SEA Games: Chee to Lim-Prasad: Become an inspiration

Chee Swee Lee was only 19 when she claimed the 400m gold at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran. Her time of 55.08 seconds stood as the national record for 43 years.
Chee Swee Lee was only 19 when she claimed the 400m gold at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran. Her time of 55.08 seconds stood as the national record for 43 years.

The clock read 55.08 seconds as a then 19-year-old Chee Swee Lee crossed the finish line at the Asian Games in Teheran in 1974.

A 400m national record was set, and it would stand for 43 years - until Dipna Lim-Prasad's 54.18sec performance on Thursday night finally smashed it.

"Naturally, I'm of two minds in this regard. I'm both happy and sad," said Chee, now 62, in an e-mail interview from Las Vegas, where she lives.

"Happy because a hardworking young Singaporean athlete like Dipna has risen to the apex of her track career and won a medal for her country in an important meet like the SEA Games.

"A little sad because I have had the great honour of holding the record for 43 years and must now, 'pass the torch' to the younger generation. Most of all, I'm happy that Singapore track and field continues to progress at this high level."

Chee, the first Singaporean woman to win an athletics gold at the Asian Games, described her victory in 1974 as "the greatest moment of my track career".

Going into the race, she was "totally prepared", but had to face Japanese Nabujo Kawano, who had the best time going into the final.

"The design of the track in Teheran was such that it had an unusually long curve and the straight was rather short," she explained. "Knowing this, I started my usual last 100m kick early and hit the finishing line ahead of the field."

Chee, a real estate agent who is active in the Singapore Association of Nevada, has not had the opportunity to congratulate Lim-Prasad.

She said: "I would offer her my most sincere congratulations on a job well done and encourage her to continue to strive for even greater heights in her running career.

"Hold the record with honour and pride and become an inspiration for other young Singaporean athletes dreaming of achieving great things."

Chee also praised the national set-up and its efforts in "producing quality athletes throughout the country". Patrick Zehnder, her former coach, still keeps in contact with her amid this "competitive sports resurgence" in Singapore.

"With this being the case, it is more likely, in my opinion, that another athlete may, even as we speak, be in serious training with an eye toward breaking Dipna's new standard," she said. "Only time will tell, however, and I hope that she will get to be the record holder for a good, long time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Chee to Lim-Prasad: Become an inspiration'. Print Edition | Subscribe