Why It Matters

High hopes for Team Singapore

The 57 titles won in Malaysia - Singapore's best away SEA Games haul - might seem like the obvious eye-catching figure, but an equally significant number is 16, the number of different sports that delivered gold for Team Singapore.

Crossing the half-century of golds, and in back-to-back Games at that following the 84 from two years ago, is a laudable feat - the only other time was in 1993 when Singapore as host won 50 golds. But it is the diversity of sources that is cause for optimism.

Only in 2015, with 18 sports winning gold, has there been a bigger spread of winners. The Class of 2007 (with 43 in Thailand - the previous overseas record) did so in 11 sports.

The emergence of a new crop of young talent is also encouraging. Greater things will be expected of many in the 560-strong contingent, of whom 74 were aged 20 or below. Seventy-one debutants won medals, with 42 of them individual medal winners.

Swimming cemented its status as the country's most reliable sport with its 19 golds, but there were breakthroughs for golf, cycling, winter sports and cricket - sports that will welcome the higher profile.

With a talent pool of about 3.9 million citizens to tap, the Republic has bagged 188 medals across all three colours, fourth behind overall winners Malaysia (323), and regional giants Thailand (246) and Indonesia (191).

This did not come by accident but through careful planning and strong support from stakeholders. The $40 million Sports Excellence Scholarship was launched in 2013, and Sport Singapore devotes about $60 million annually for over 1,600 local athletes.

More funding, through a matching grant by the Government of up to $50 million, was announced earlier this year, and Team Singapore's record overseas showing this year could open more coffers.

But as good as the performances in Malaysia over the past three weeks have been, record-setting feats at the South-east Asian level are no longer enough. The Commonwealth Games start in eight months, and the Asian Games next August.

The countdown has begun.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'High hopes for Team S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe