8 facts about Singapore at the Asian Games
By Justin Kor
1. Gold watch drama
When legendary swimmer Neo Chwee Kok won four golds at the inaugural Asian Games in New Delhi in 1951, the predecessor of SNOC – the Singapore Olympic and Sports Council – wanted to present a gold watch to Neo for his achievements. But amateur athletes then were not allowed to receive any monetary rewards, which led to the offer being rescinded. Looks like one can indeed have too much gold on their hands.
2. The silver that should have been gold
At the 1954 Asian Games in Manila, sprinter Mary Beatrice Klass pulled off what was arguably the shock of the Games when she powered her way from behind to tie with hot favourite, Japan’s Atsuko Nambu, in the 100-metre event. Both recorded a time of 12.5 seconds. But there were no cameras then to determine a photo finish, so Klass was controversially awarded the silver medal. She graciously accepted the medal – what a ‘klassy’ woman.
3. Ending a three-decade long wait
Joseph Schooling’s triumph in the 100-metre butterfly finals at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon ended a gold-medal drought of 32 years for men’s swimming in Singapore at the Games. The last Singaporean male swimmer to win a gold at the Games was ‘Flying Fish’ Ang Peng Siong, in the 100-metre freestyle event at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. In that three-decade wait, we started the first MRT line, have our own Universal Studios, and seen three Prime Ministers and five Presidents hold terms in office. Please don’t make us wait that long again.
4. Smooth sailing in 2006
The 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, saw Singapore sailors sweep its largest haul of medals ever at Asiad, with five golds, three silvers and two bronze. To mark this achievement, the jubilant sailors celebrated by throwing chef de mission and sailing chief Low Teo Ping into the sea. Talk about making waves at the Games.
5. Double trouble
We have had some seriously talented athletes in our midst. Certain members of our 1951 and 1954 men’s water polo team also represented the country in swimming – and they excelled at it, achieving podium finishes against specialist swimmers. Most notably, the team that won the 4x100m freestyle relay in New Delhi in 1951 consisted of three water polo players, along with legendary swimmer Neo Chwee Kok: Wiebe Wolters, Lionel Chee, and Barry Mitchell. One wonders if the likes of Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen can play water polo as well.
6. First in the record books
At the 1974 Asian Games, golden girl of athletics Chee Swee Lee sprinted her way into the record books as she won the 400-metre race in an Asian Games and national record of 55.08 seconds. It was the first time a Singaporean female won a gold at the Asian Games. She would hold this record for 43 years until it was broken in 2017 by Dipna Lim-Prasad. To this day, Chee still holds the national record for the 800-metre event, the oldest record for women in Singapore athletics, and third oldest overall. Now imagine if she had received a dollar for each day her record remains standing…
7. The Games that never came to be
In 1972, Singapore won the bid to host the 1978 Asian Games, but just a year later, the country pulled out from staging the Games. Financial concerns were the main reasons for the withdrawal, as the priority then was to build public housing flats. Thailand bailed us out, hosting the Games in Bangkok. If we had hosted the Games, we would have built two indoor stadiums and an indoor swimming pool, but residential areas in Ang Mo Kio and Yishun might not have been fully completed. We are truly a pragmatic nation.
8. Full attendance
Full marks to having one of the best attendance – Singapore has competed in all editions of the Asian Games since it was first held in 1951. It is one of only seven countries to do so, the others being India; Indonesia; Japan; the Philippines; Sri Lanka; and Thailand. Now where’s that medal for being ever present?