Sports has always been an intimate part of my life. Involvement in sports — whether as a fan or a participant — has given me some of my fondest memories. For instance, I am a big fan of Liverpool and I grew up watching Big League Soccer on Sundays in the 1970s. Starting off with black-and-white TV and then moving to colour, I — with my dad — would faithfully follow all the actions. Till today, I can hear the distinctive voice of commentator Brian Moore.
By “best”, we mean not just the greatest, the fastest, the strongest, the brightest ... We also mean the grittiest comeback, the calmest mind, the coolest story, the sweetest gesture.
Of course, I loved playing football too. At Anglo Chinese School where I was studying, we were football mad but didn’t have strong tradition at the Nationals. So we were often thrashed by stronger teams. That didn’t matter. We were well pleased just to make it past our zone level into the Nationals itself.
For us, what mattered was simply the joy of playing and the fun we had bonding as a team. That spirit guided me even as I went on to take part in other sports — swimming, running, cycling, canoeing.
For the uninitiated, the lessons from sports — passion, dedication to a cause, team work, perseverance — can sometimes be reduced to clichés. But they are the breathing values for life which no classroom can come close to teaching.
As a fan, I can think of many sporting moments that leave one breathless. It isn’t just that one is mesmerised by the sheer brilliance of the athletic feats. More importantly, such moments drive home powerfully messages of hope and courage — messages which have resonance well beyond the sporting arena.
For me, one such sporting moment would have to be the Uefa Champions League final in 2005 between Liverpool of England and Milan of Italy. The match was held at the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. I was at one of our camps watching the action with my army friends. We may be miles away from the real match but what unfolded was a story of remarkable grit which we could all relate to — then and even now.
As a die-hard “Red” fan, I found the match depressing to watch at first. Milan took the lead early through Paolo Maldini. Hernán Crespo added two more goals before half-time to make the score 3–0. It looked like everything was over for Liverpool.
Then the impossible happened. In the second half, it launched what one may call the “mother of comebacks”, scoring three goals in a thrilling six-minute spell — thanks to Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso. Extra time yielded no goal from either side and it took a penalty shoot-out to decide the champions. The rest is familiar history as Liverpool lifted its fifth European Cup after goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek dramatically saved a penalty by Milan’s Andriy Shevchenko. This win — which I often recall, with details and all — is, for all of us, a timeless reminder that “it ain’t over til it’s over”.
Apart from international examples, we — happily — also have many heartening stories of our own athletes. In my role as President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, I have been privileged to witness some of their finest moments — whether it is swimmer Joseph Schooling winning gold at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, or sailors Bernie Chin and Samantha Yom clinching top spots at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
More significant than their triumphs must be the way they overcame all kinds of odds to fulfil their dreams. Indeed, for these athletes and others like them, every win is a testimony of not just their skills but their resilience and fighting spirit. It is such traits that we are celebrating with “50est”, a collection of profiles paying tribute to some of our best athletes. By “best”, we mean not just the greatest, the fastest, the strongest, the brightest — the familiar winners on the podium. We also mean the grittiest comeback, the calmest mind, the coolest story, the sweetest gesture. They — including the example of how contract bridge’s Tan Yoke Lan coped with cancer to compete at the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang, Indonesia — touch us and inspire us as much as tales of triumph and glory.
Rightly so for sport isn’t just about Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Maria Sharapova. At heart, it is an important rallying activity that brings people together, a good platform for community building. In the end, medals and records are wonderful. But it’s people coming together which is the truest essence of sports. “50est”, by aptly focusing on not just the stars but also lesser known faces whose stories ordinary folks can relate to, captures this sentiment spot on.
Singapore National Olympic Council
One thinks too of the breakthrough performances:
In these stories, superlatives apply too as one talks about the grittiest performance, the bravest quest, the heartiest effort, the coolest mind.
Nearer home, we have the inspiring tales of some of our very own athletes.
For Singapore National Olympic Council’s Secretary General Chris Chan, stories like these and more are “still rather untold to the masses”. And they should be told unceasingly, given how “inspiring and heartfelt” they are not just as sports headlines but also as everyday tales with relevance beyond the sporting arena.
“The idea of putting together a collection of such Singapore stories was first mooted at the 2011 SEA Games…That was when I thought perhaps the SNOC could play a role in sharing these stories,” he says. The publication of this book in 2015 is timely to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary, he notes, adding that “these stories are testament to the progress we have made as a nation, not just in sports but also in building a nation”.
Coming on board to undertake this project, the editorial team have been privileged to hear first hand the stories of the athletes featured in “50est”. A celebration of the spirit of excellence not just in terms of medals and results but also the journey undertaken, this book pays tribute to some of our best athletes.
Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also President of the SNOC, puts it well when he says, “By ‘best’, we mean not just the greatest, the fastest, the strongest, the brightest - the familiar winners on the podium. We also mean the grittiest comeback, the calmest mind, the coolest story, the sweetest gesture.”
Which is why in “50est”, we have not only iconic names such as sprinter C.Kunalan, swimmer Ang Peng Siong, paddler Feng Tianwei and footballer Fandi Ahmad whose achievements are legendary. We also have lesser known athletes whose stories of uncommon grit, passion and commitment are equally deserving of a wider reach.
Along with SNOC, we - the editor, photographer, project manager, writers, reporters, designer and printer - would like to thank the athletes for sharing their stories with us and pay tribute to their contribution to our nation. May the “50est” spirit prevail long after the Big Party of 2015!