Travesty if dreams of many get lost in pursuit of gold

SINGAPORE to better the 50-gold mark at this home SEA Games? It is not a question of whether they will, but rather by how many.

With a record 749 athletes - the biggest collection of the nation's best athletes at any Games - the medal haul could in fact hit 80 golds, according to my optimistic colleagues at The Straits Times sports desk.

And why not?

Boosted by the likes of Asian Games champions Joseph Schooling and Tao Li in the pool, and with Youth Olympic gold medallists Bernie Chin and Samantha Yom leading the charge in sailing, the Republic has enough world-class talent to make a real push for the big 8-0.

It would be the perfect National Day present and give a nation marking its golden jubilee a real fillip ahead of the big Aug 9 celebrations. I can just see Singapore's SEA Games champions being feted: Open-top bus rides and their faces plastered on billboards.

They will deserve every credit for doing the nation proud.

Yet, it would be a travesty if the only legacy and memories to emerge from the 2015 SEA Games relate to the number of golds won by Singapore.

With the country's gold-medal brigade set to number only about 100 - a figure that includes teams as well as individuals - there will be at least six times that many athletes who will not have Majulah Singapura played in their honour.

Some will have silvers and bronzes. But for the majority, a pat on the back may be the only recognition they will receive for devoting months and years of pain, sweat, toil and tears to their sport.

For many, like heptathlete Goh Chui Ling, joy will have to come from merely being able to compete on the region's biggest sporting stage.

The last time Singapore sent a heptathlete to the Games was in 1993 - when she was only a few months old.

Goh is unlikely to be an overnight star. But she is dedicated and who knows, encouraged by a good showing at home, she could be a medal contender in a SEA Games or two.

Like Goh, Grace Chua is also unlikely to be a name people will remember at these Games.

But the decision by the 19-year-old, who scored an impressive 44 out of 45 in last year's International Baccalaureate, to make the bold move to put aside her studies to focus on badminton is commendable.

Few can rival her commitment - even though Methodist Girls' School, where she studied, did not have badminton as a co-curricular activity, she never gave up on the sport.

Likewise, Singapore must never give up on athletes like Goh and Grace.

Former national gymnast Lim Heem Wei, the first Singapore gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, remembers the dark days of a sport that now delivers golds to the country regularly.

At the 2001 SEA Games, Singapore's gymnasts finished second-last. It was also a time when the sport was plagued by such internal strife that it was left without a national association.

While participation at the 2003 SEA Games was also in doubt, faith was kept in the young team and, in 2005, they delivered two golds.

Lim, who was only 12 in 2001, is grateful no one turned their backs on the sport when it would have been easy to do so: "How many athletes achieve something big in their first Games? It takes time to build a champion.

"We say we're Team Singapore. And what makes a whole team is not just gold medallists but everyone working together."

Additional funds were made available to national sports associations to get their athletes Games-ready this year.

The Government said this will not be a one-off and, as part of the 2015 Singapore Games legacy, more support will be given to the athletes.

My wish, though, is that more support be given not only to the best, but also the rest.

It would be a shame if it took another 22 years before another heptathlete or volleyball team featured at the SEA Games.

Long after the Games' flame is extinguished on June 16, the sporting ambitions of Singapore athletes, whoever they are, must continue to burn bright.

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