SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on the nation to rally behind Team Singapore at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (July 13), he shared that he recently had the opportunity to chat with the Tokyo-bound athletes virtually.
The Tokyo Olympics will take place from July 23 to Aug 8, and 23 athletes across 12 sports have qualified. The Paralympics will then take place from Aug 24 to Sept 5 and 10 Singaporeans have confirmed their berths.
The table tennis players are already in Japan, while others are putting the final touches on their preparations here or overseas in the United States and Britain.
Mr Lee noted in his post that the pandemic has made this Olympic year "very challenging".
"The demands on those who are also on the front line of Covid-19, like (rower) Joan Poh, who is a nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, have been tremendous," he wrote.
"Nevertheless, our athletes have persevered in their training and are raring to go. Their focus, resilience and adaptability to changing circumstances are inspiring!"
Poh, 30, was thrilled that Mr Lee appeared to be familiar with her sport during the virtual chat.
"It was so cool that my Prime Minister was able to accurately place his fists where rowers would finish a stroke at, and was even rocking his body backwards, simulating the rowing movement," she said.
"My Prime Minister is cooler than yours because he is multilingual, he codes, and he knows sculling."
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong described the virtual engagement session as "lively and energetic" in a separate Facebook post and also praised the Team Singapore athletes for being a "richly, diversely talented" lot.
PM Lee said he was delighted that 21 of the Team Singapore athletes headed to Japan will be making their debuts, across a range of events that Singapore will be represented in for the first time as well, such as diving, equestrian, marathon swimming and para-powerlifting.
In a video message to the athletes, he said: "It's been a long journey you've been on.
"It has not been easy, I'm sure, to reach that level to qualify for the Olympics, but you've made it and you're at the starting point of the next stage of your journey.
"We are all with you, cheering with you. Our thoughts are with you, our prayers are with you. We just want you to focus, do your best, and we are proud of you."
Among the debutants will be para-lifter Nur Aini Mohamad Yasli, 29. She said that she enjoyed the "very nice chat" with Mr Lee. "(His) words of encouragement gave me a little boost in my preparation. As there will be no live spectators at the Games, it is very comforting to know that the nation is behind us and cheering us on all the way back at home."