Ex-national hurdler motivated by letter

Former national hurdler Osman Merican won three medals at the South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1965 but his most treasured memento is not the silverware but a piece of paper.

It is a typewritten, single-page letter signed by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, given to Singapore's medallists, praising their effort in lifting the country, particularly as it came just months after Singapore had separated from Malaysia.

He wrote: "I would like you to know that your performance brought into focus the qualities of discipline, stamina and talent which will enable the people of Singapore to overcome so many of their present difficulties and secure our future as a nation."

Those words from Mr Lee drove him to succeed both on the sporting front - he set the national record in the 110m hurdles (14.76sec) at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok - and in his career. He secured a scholarship from the police and rose to become an acting assistant superintendent. Said the 75-year-old retiree yesterday: "Reading that letter motivated me to believe I could be more than what I felt I was capable of achieving."

Singapore National Olympic Council's secretary-general from 1972 to 1996, Mr S.S. Dhillon, noted that Mr Lee's interest in local sports never wavered. When Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1977, Mr Lee met the players at the Istana and "encouraged them and the coaches".

In 2008 and just hours after the Republic won the bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games two years later, Mr Lee, who was then Minister Mentor, was already planning ahead.

Recalled Mr Ng Ser Miang, who was chairman of the organising committee: "I remember receiving a 2am e-mail from him. He gave me advice on how we should organise the Games and how we can project the nation to the world."


Additional reporting by May Chen

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