SPORTING LIFE

Stick to the dream after a spirited showing

One day history will call your name. One day it will be your turn. One day all those early mornings on the field have to matter. One day the losing to Malaysia will stop and gold will come again.

One day almost came yesterday.

One more dribble in the shoot-out. One more save. One step from a fairy tale.

It was a "bittersweet" night as full-back Jaspal Singh put it; it was a "so close" night, said Mohd Saifulnizam. But it wasn't a night for crying.

Not when you come back from 1-2 down with less than two minutes remaining on the clock. Not when you push a team who have beaten you 2-1, 7-0, 5-0, 4-2, 6-2, 4-1 in your last meetings to the very edge of collapse. Not when you can find the character to learn from failure, then shake off failure, and search for victory.

No, despite the defeat it wasn't a night for Singapore tears but strangely of Singapore believing.

There's this old advertising line from a sportswear giant which took sport, with all its beautiful greys, and reduced it to black and white. "You don't win silver," it said, "you lose gold." It was clever and provocative but sport is never quite so simple. Sometimes a team, like this one, can lose and yet they can also win. Small things, valuable things.

This team won regard and self-respect. This team won the admiration of a chanting crowd by not folding but fighting. This team won confidence. Now this team should win better funding.

Malaysia play better hockey. Let's appreciate that. More technically polished and more highly ranked at 12 (Singapore are 38). But Singapore play better hockey than they did and they played it when it mattered. As coach Solomon Casoojee said, his team have made "a tremendous step-up in a short space of time". After last night it is hard to argue.

Casoojee is a smart, proud, driven man who is full of inspirational sayings. Later, the match done, he'll tell you the motto of his team for these Games: Let's leave the jersey in a better place. Let's give the Singapore jersey pride, let's fill it with character, let's take the team forward, let's leave the next generation with something to play for.

If that was a competition, they won it. If narrowing the gap between them and an old foe - who appreciably fielded a younger team - was a contest, they won that, too. This was a night with too many silver linings.

On the sidelines later a man 87 and sprightly watched the medal ceremony with a grin. Ajit Singh Gill played in the 1956 Olympics and now he clenched a grey, grizzled fist and recounted a tale of how he told the team they must "Go, go, go". Boy, how they went: First hard at the opposition and then later into the stands.

The medals awarded, the team communed with the crowd. "It's good to see Sengkang Stadium filled and so vocal," said Jaspal as his team laughed and signed and posed. Young boys touched their medals and did not seem to complain about the colour.

This morning maybe the team will hurt a little. Wonder a little of what might have been. Remember the little bits that separated them from being champions. Maybe it's what will push them a little further, to keep rising early, to keep loving hockey, to keep trying. You have to give your every day for that one day.

No team have an excuse for not trying, for sport is replete with tales of perseverance. The Australian hockey team were fast, skilful, competitive but they could never win Olympic gold. Third place, runner-up, runner-up, runner-up, third place, third place. Then in 2004, finally, gold.

In Singapore, Farhan Kamsani has a similar sort of story. He's been searching for that SEA Games gold since 2007 and it won't come. But leaning against an advertising board later, he smiled and he sweatily shrugged.

"It will happen," he said.

One day.

rohitb@sph.com.sg

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