Asean Para Games: Singapore's athletes all punched above their weight, says SNPC chief

Supporters cheer on athletes returning from the 11th Asean Para Games, on Aug 7, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The Republic sent a relatively small contingent of 36 athletes, including 17 debutants, to the Asean Para Games in Solo, but all punched above their weight, said Singapore National Paralympic Council president Teo-Koh Sock Miang.

The contingent returned from Indonesia on Sunday (Aug 7) with a haul of seven gold, nine silver and 12 bronze medals.

At the previous APG in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, Singapore racked up its largest away haul of 50 medals (nine golds, 17 silvers and 24 bronzes) from 92 athletes.

Dr Teo-Koh, who was pleased with the athletes' overall performance in Indonesia, told The Straits Times: "The debutants really demonstrated that they can now compete at the adult level. We're extremely proud of the whole team.

"Even for those who may not have won a medal, what was important was that they pushed themselves to beat their personal best."

Swimming (4-5-5) was the stand-out sport, with Wong Zhi Wei winning two gold medals, while siblings Sophie and Colin Soon clinched a title each. All three had won golds for the first time.

Shot put thrower Diroy Noordin and boccia teen Aloysius Gan were also first-time gold medallists. Aloysius, 15, clinched the mixed pairs BC3 gold with partner Toh Sze Ning. Aloysius and Toh, 29, also each bagged a silver in their respective individual categories.

Archer Nur Syahidah Alim retained her women's individual compound open gold medal, while the women's goalball team made history by winning Singapore's first APG medal in the sport - a silver.

Wong, 20, who was making his second APG appearance after 2017, was pleased with the upgrade in the colour of his medals. He had won a silver and a bronze in 2017, but clinched two golds and one silver in Solo.

"It's a really great showing of where I am now and I'm looking forward to how I'll perform at the Asian Para Games and hopefully the Paris Paralympics.

"(Before the Games) the question was whether I would have enough energy to maintain my form for a week because I had races on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"My body is still recovering from surgery and I take certain medications so it was a question of whether I could perform for all three events."

Wong had undergone a kidney transplant in 2020 and has been taking immunosuppressants that affect his cardiovascular capability, leading to occasional heart palpitations.

Wong Zhi Wei clinched two golds and one silver in Solo. PHOTO: SNPC

To cope, he spends a longer time warming up compared to his teammates to increase his heart rate slowly and also does breathing exercises.

"I really had to work hard to overcome that physical barrier because it was really hard for me to sprint consistently.

"But because of that, I have started to break the ceiling and I'm starting to see a higher level to achieve because, even if it's by a bit, I have overcome the restrictions and the side effects the medication has on me. I'm still working on it but it's a good sign I'm going in the right direction."

He added that training in Spain and competing at the World Para Swimming Championships in June also helped him get used to the pace of competing.

Following the APG, the next step for the para-sports scene, said Dr Teo-Koh, is to foster the next generation of athletes and ensure a sustainable pipeline of talent.

"We now need to develop more athletes and encourage more young ones to come in. Like all sports in Singapore, you always want to develop the next generation. The APG is, in a way, the entry for all our aspiring athletes and it's a great experience for them.

"Some of our 15-year-olds are competing against people who are 40 years old and to be able to keep their composure and compete, that is such a success story."

She also called on corporate Singapore to partner the SNPC "to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities who excel in sports".

"My appeal to corporate Singapore as well as our multinational corporations based here is to please support our para-athletes," she said. "Let them show you what they're capable of."

Boccia player Toh Sze Ning receives much fanfare at Changi Airport. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Last month, the SNPC's Athletes Achievement Awards scheme was enhanced till 2024, with higher cash rewards awarded to para-athletes who win medals at major Games, courtesy of sponsors DBS Bank and Tote Board.

An individual gold medallist at the APG will now be awarded $5,000 for each gold medal - capped at a maximum of three golds. At the 2017 APG, the cash reward for an individual gold medal was $2,000.

Wong, who is now taking a gap year from his psychology course at the National University of Singapore to focus on swimming, said the increase would help with his medical bills and swimming needs.

But also important for him is investing in a good hair-conditioner.

"As swimmers, we spend a lot of time in water and so the chlorine does very bad things to our hair so investing in a good conditioner would be good," he said.

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