Patricia Chan Li-Yin
As a new country in the early 1960s, Singapore was in need of sports heroes, and young swimmer Patricia Chan delivered the goods. Pat Chan became known as Singapore’s Golden Girl when she was barely a teenager. Before her competitive career was over, she had won the Sportswoman of the Year Award for five consecutive years.
Sweeping wins at the SEAP Games secured her Pat a place in Singapore’s sports history. Over five trips to the SEAP Games, Pat Chan won 39 gold medals. She was particularly dominant in the 100-metre freestyle, setting a SEAP Games record with each final swim. At the 1967 and 1969 Games, she won 10 gold medals both times. She held her own in the Asian Games as well, with bronze and silver medals.
From the early days of her competitive career, Pat was under no illusions about the difficulties of being a top athlete. After winning 8 gold medals at her first SEAP Games in 1965, Pat was given a frank assessment of where she stood in the athletic universe, by her father, Dr. Chan Ah Kow. “Understand. This is the easiest part of your swimming career,” Dr. Chan said. “The toughest part is staying there.”
As one of the pioneers in Singapore swimming, Pat sometimes experienced “training methods (that) were at best experimental.” However, the trend was overwhelmingly encouraging for local swimmers. “We were pushing local talent (in that sense all the raw talent) to a point that hadn’t been heard of before,” she recalls.
Her father often took in swimmers who came from around the region to train or compete in Singapore. “And they would come and live in the house, be part of the family, go training, just like the rest of us,” Pat says. “My father, being my father, he gave us the toughest time because we were his kids. But he spared nobody and therefore demanded from them what he would demand of anybody else. He had absolutely no favourites in that sense.”
Pat Chan rose to her father’s challenge and dominated regional swimming in the 1960s. Personal drive and determination led to her winning a total of 39 gold medals over five SEA Games. She was named Sportswoman of the Year for five consecutive years. In 1999, the Straits Times ranked Pat as No.4 among Singapore’s 50 greatest athletes.