Despite his lack of major Games experience, national swimmer Zachary Ian Tan's potential was reemphasised last night as the 14-year-old became the youngest recipient of the Sports Excellence (spex) Scholarship.
"I am happy and privileged, it is a pretty big thing to be chosen," said the home-schooled teenager, who received his certificate from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Lounge.
"As an athlete I understand the need to perform at a certain level, but I will just focus on continuing to improve myself and not put any pressure on myself."
Zachary, who owns five Under-14 and one U-17 national record, narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. He was one of 17 new spexScholars announced, with a total of 78 recipients from 24 sports this year.
Among the 17, 11 are under the age of 20, signalling the Singapore Sport Institute's (SSI) willingness to invest more in younger athletes with potential but who may not have enough results to back their application for support.
SSI head of high performance and athlete life Richard Gordon said for young athletes, SSI looks for a "trajectory" of results to show consistent improvements.
NURTURING THE BIG DREAMS
Like many countries our size, we have to be focused and judicious in applying our limited resources. Within this comprehensive framework, we accommodate different sports, different individuals, and different pathways to success, while making the best of our resources.
GRACE FU, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, on how success can be achieved with the right means despite having limited resources.
He noted: "I can't stress enough on the importance of the interview. You learn a lot from them: what makes them tick, whether they are aware of their performance level, how they stack up against rivals, and whether they have a clear understanding of where they are headed, and how to get there."
He added that the SSI is willing to invest beyond a typical four-year Asian Games or Olympic Games cycle for such young athletes, even though such investments may be a "risk".
Two new sports - wushu (Jowen Lim and Ho Lin Ying) and squash (Sneha Sivakumar) - are represented for the first time in the spex programme.
Sneha, 16, won three medals at last year's SEA Games. She said: "With more structured support from Sport Singapore (SportSG) I hope that I will be able to improve exponentially and have some major breakthroughs."
The spexScholarship was launched in 2013 with a war chest of $40 million over five years, which ended with last year's cycle.
Gordon said the quantum for it is now built into SportSG's annual budget, but declined to reveal the new amount set aside for this programme.
SportSG, which falls under MCCY, was handed an operating budget of $297.67 million for the current financial year, which ends on March 31.
SpexScholars enjoy an enhanced level of support, in areas such as sports science and medicine, career preparation and life skills.
The scholars also receive a monthly stipend of between $1,200 and $8,400 - with Olympic-and world-level athletes in the highest tier of the scheme.
Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity