A tribute to SEA Games stars past and present

In life, and perhaps especially so in sport, one cannot truly appreciate the present without acknowledging the deeds of the past.

We now cheer swimmer Joseph Schooling and his gold-medal exploits. But before him, Pat Chan, who would retire with 39 SEA Games titles, was the original golden one.

High jumper Michelle Sng may be aiming for SEA Games gold now but her path to success was aided by the 61 Asean track and field champions before her.

It is why, with the SEA Games returning to our shores for a fourth time next month, we collected SEA Games champions, icons from four different generations, to discuss the journey their sport has taken.

Here was footballer Seak Poh Leong, 62, telling Irfan Fandi, 17, what it was like to play before a packed National Stadium four decades ago, when Singapore had hosted its maiden regional games in 1973.

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Here was Joscelin Yeo, 36, winner of 40 SEA Games swimming golds, discussing what it takes to be a champion with Quah Zheng Wen, 18, who is aiming for titles of his own next month.

Here was experience and youth, wisdom and ambition, legends and rising stars all in one place.

In this tracing of sporting journeys, we chose four sports:

Swimming, sailing and athletics because they have been successful, winning 1,020 medals, including 377 golds, between them since 1959.

The fourth sport was football, which has not won a gold, yet remains a sport that is tightly connected to our sporting culture.

And so these athletes, from various generations, met on a track and by the sea, by the pool and on a field.

Youngers ones were teased for "having it good" by the old-timers from the era when running spikes were actually nails hammered into a shoe.

There were fierce debates and laughter. But always, no matter young or old, there was passion and a genuine love for the game.

In a year when Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee, there will be many tributes paid to the country's pioneers.

But the best ones will probably be heard in sporting arenas across the island next month, when we roar on the present.

It is the perfect way to honour those who have left their footprints on the Games, ones that have helped the present generation take bigger, bolder strides.


In pursuit of those Glory days

Singapore athletes (from left) Glory Barnabas, K. Jayamani and James Wong have proved their class at the Asean level in the past. The question is whether high jumper Michelle Sng (right) can match their feats with a gold at next month's SEA Games at home. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

On a clear and sunny day in 1973, an excited teenager took her place among thousands in the new National Stadium's grandstand.

She had risked the wrath of her parents, skipping school to watch her ageing idol's swansong at the Southeast Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games.

In that moment of juvenile impudence, Singapore's next track star took her first step towards greatness.


Winds firmly in their sails

Singapore’s SEA Games gold medallists through the years. From left: Siew Shaw Her (1993), Lock Hong Kit (1973) and (second from right) Tan Tee Suan (1983), with 2015 competitors Yukie Yokoyama (centre) and Samantha Neubronner. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Four decades on, Lock Hong Kit's memories of the 1975 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games have become a little blurry.

The 68-year-old takes a moment to recall where the Games were held that year.

Ah, yes, it was in Thailand so he must have sailed with old pal Tan Tee Suan on the Fireball that year.


Inheriting the golden DNA

From left: Swimmers Patricia Chan, Ang Peng Siong, Joscelin Yeo and Quah Zheng Wen have 100 SEA Games gold medals between them. The veterans' stories bolster Quah's belief that a stout spirit is more vital than top facilities and sports science. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Sporting history, so you may think, should not just be preserved but paraded in the athlete's home. Shining trophies in glass cases. Certificates framed like law degrees. Medals draped on a wall like golden paintings.

Except that the four athletes gathered in a room at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, who own 100 SEA Games golds between them, do not flaunt their treasure.

Joscelin Yeo swears, err, umm, that her mother used to keep her 40 golds. Quah Zheng Wen, 18, says his mum doesn't like clutter, so his single one is in a vase in the attic. Ang Peng Siong insists his 20 are in his old house somewhere. Patricia Chan says her 39 are safely stored in a special box.


Wanted: Fit and disciplined Lions

(From left) Current Young Lions player Irfan Fandi and former Lions V. Sundramoorthy, Malek Awab and Seak Poh Leong discussing the evolution of the game at the Singapore Sports School. Seak wants to see improved youth development. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Four decades have passed, but Seak Poh Leong clearly remembers the day he tried to outsmart national football coach Mike Walker - and failed miserably.

The then-Lions captain, along with team-mate Mohamad Noh, had arranged job interviews (the players were all amateurs) to coincide with the Englishman's gruelling fitness session in the build-up to the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games.

They returned at lunchtime, just as their team-mates staggered back from training to their temporary accommodation in Toa Payoh.


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