AFTER far exceeding all targets while shouldering the weight of expectations pinned on Team Singapore, it was no wonder that sports officials showered the team with superlatives as the 28th SEA Games concluded yesterday.
The 749-strong contingent received a glowing report card at a post-Games media briefing, with their performances variously described as "excellent", "fantastic" and "impressive".
By the time the Games' flame was extinguished last night, Singapore had amassed 84 golds, 73 silvers and 102 bronzes, surpassing its previous best haul of 50 golds from the 1993 Games - the last time the event was held on home soil.
It meant that the hosts were ranked second in the overall medal standings behind regional kingpins Thailand, a feat that has not been achieved since the 1975 Bangkok Seap Games.
Chef de mission Tan Eng Liang, a veteran official who has led national athletes to 12 major Games, revealed that he had set an internal target of 64 golds before the biennial event kicked off officially on June 5. Matching the showing from 1993 was the minimum benchmark expected of the athletes, he said.
"Fifty was a very safe prediction," he explained. "The moment we hit my internal target, we knew that we were on the road to (even more). We are extremely pleased that we were able to achieve that."
Added Nicholas Fang, who was the SEA Games co-chef de mission: "It's not an overstatement. To be able to be among the top three nations speaks a lot about the performance of the athletes and the preparations that have gone in."
The success was attributed to a number of factors, among them the fact that being hosts meant organisers could, to a large extent, design the sports and events contested to maximise Singapore's advantage.
Netball, for instance, returned to the roster after a 14-year absence. Floorball made its SEA Games debut. Events such as the jumbo doubles in squash were also introduced. Singapore won golds in all these events.
Extra funding from SportSingapore and the Singapore National Olympic Council to the tune of more than $4 millionalso played its part in the overall achievement.
Medals were mined from 33 out of the 36 sports - only football, petanque and tennis finished empty-handed.
While he is personally disappointed at the performance of the Young Lions, Tan gave the team credit for trying their best - but also cautioned that sports which have reaped a less-than-ideal harvest must address what went wrong. He said: "I would expect them to do a detailed analysis and come up with some plan to bring them further if they want to improve."
Added Bob Gambardella, chief of the Singapore Sports Institute: "There's no looking back any more. We've had a great performance... and now the expectation throughout is that we're raising the bar. We have to be ready to meet those demands."
He also noted that campaign funding for specific events will be explored in the future to help athletes set their sights on bigger stages.
For now, officials are hopeful that the contingent's success at the SEA Games will serve as inspiration for athletes to strive for loftier goals, while also providing a launch pad for budding future athletes.
Said Tan: "The SEA Games is one step in a series of major events that leads to the Olympics. These successes will hopefully spur us on to do better at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
"These Games have produced numerous heroes and heroines, and they're all inspiring and encouraging role models for younger athletes to follow."