Singapore's Olympians Always a Champion in Fitness First's book

Team Singapore Olympians past and present gather for the announcement of "Always a Champion", held at Fitness First's premises at Capital Tower Sports Performance. The recipients were given free memberships to use until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Team Singapore Olympians past and present gather for the announcement of "Always a Champion", held at Fitness First's premises at Capital Tower Sports Performance. The recipients were given free memberships to use until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.PHOTO: FITNESS FIRST

Back in the 50s and 60s, gym facilities for budding athletes in Singapore were few and far between as they prepared themselves for major competitions.

"In 1968, the national training centre was opened at Farrer Park, but it was not a specialist gym," said former Olympic boxer Syed Abdul Kadir, 69. "We had no treadmills, no specialised machines, so I ran on the roadside or field every day and lifted loose weights at community centres."

Now, facilities like these are easily accessible for national athletes, especially after Fitness First was named the official fitness partner of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) in 2015.

Some 200 Team Singapore (TeamSG) athletes already have access to the facilities offered by Fitness First, the largest privately owned health club group in the world which has over 927,000 members in 16 countries.

Yesterday, it announced "Always a Champion", a new initiative that recognises 143 current and former athletes for their contributions to Singapore's sporting achievements over 69 years of Olympic participation.

"During our time such excellent facilities were just not available," said Tan Eng Liang, 80, president of Olympians Singapore.

"There was no incentive, no grant and support (for us). This is why I feel for the older Olympians, the recognition becomes more important," added Tan, who was part of Singapore's 1956 Olympic water polo team. "If you're talking about facilities, we are just miles apart. My mother had to sew two pieces of canvas to make my swimming costume, and we learnt how to swim at high tide near my school."

The athletes were presented with Fitness First memberships to use until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. They now have access to over 370 clubs globally, including the 17 in Singapore without having to pay membership fees.

National rower Saiyidah Aisyah, 29, has already started taking lessons at Fitness First, where she is venturing into triathlons for cross training.

"Capitol Tower (Fitness First) has the triathlon programme where I recently learnt how to swim," said the 2013 SEA Games lightweight single sculls (2,000m) champion, who became the first rower to represent Singapore at the Rio Olympics last year.

"I started only last week. I could float but could not swim. Swimming laps is the hardest thing ever, but I think it's a new challenge and I think it's exciting."

Andrew Phillips, managing director of Fitness First Singapore said: "Following a historic gold medal win that united the nation in 2016, this is now a timely moment to honour the great athletes of yesteryear... So this year, we decided it would be fitting to show our appreciation by supporting our Olympic heroes on their fitness journeys to and beyond the competition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore's Olympians always a Champion'. Print Edition | Subscribe