Singapore’s Chef de Mission for the Doha Asian Games, Annabel Pennefather was moderately optimistic in November 2006 when she forecast six gold medals for the country’s athletes at the Games in December—just one gold better than 2002 in Busan. As it turned out, Singapore’s athletes surpassed all expectations and won eight gold medals, seven silvers and 12 bronzes. Singapore’s previous record was in Busan, Korea in 2002 when it won 17 medals (5 golds, 2 silvers and 10 bronzes).
Singapore sent its largest-ever contingent to the Doha Games: 134 athletes. Sailing dominated the results, picking up five golds, three silvers and two bronzes. Prior to the Asian Games, Mr. Low Teo Ping, president of Singapore Sailing Federation, had predicted that every sailor would win a medal. He was almost right: of the 20 sailors who went to the Games, 19 stood on podiums when their events were done.
I am always proud when I get to represent my country…Both the 1998 and 2002 Asian Games, despite their very different outcomes, mean a lot to me… I’ve given up my junior college education to pursue my sporting dream and there is no turning back.” Sailor Roy Tay, gold medalist at 2006 Doha, bronze medalist at the 1998 Asian Games and 2008 Olympic hopeful.
Athletes in other sports also put up tremendous efforts against fierce opponents. Bowler Remy Ong led his men’s team to the Team silver in addition to winning a silver in the men’s masters. The reigning World Champion was under tremendous pressure from the Korean bowlers who were hoping to sweep the podium. However, Remy and the team ensured that Singapore’s colours flew over the men’s event. In women’s doubles, Michelle Kwang and Valerie Teo held the line to win the gold medal. Valerie also picked up a bronze in the womens all event, and the women’s five-player team claimed a bronze.
In swimming Tao Li, who had made a strong debut at the SEA Games in 2005, surprised spectators with a golden performance in the women’s 50 metre butterfly and a bronze medal in the 100 metres. Bodybuilder Simon Chua picked up another gold medal for Singapore while his team mates added two bronzes to the total.
In shooting, the women’s air rifle team of Adrienne Ser, Jasmine Ser and Vanessa Yong came through with a silver medal. The women’s table tennis team, which has been one of Singapore’s most consistent medal winners for the past five years, also picked up a silver medal. Li Jiawei settled for a bronze medal in singles and in mixed doubles with Yang Zi.
The badminton Ladies team fought hard to a bronze medal. Goh Qiu Bin won a bronze medal in Wushu. Peter Gilchrist won a bronze medal in cuesports. Ibrahim Sihat and Mohd Ismail Muhammad added to their collection of bronze medals as well in bodybuilding.
Singapore’s achievements at the Doha Games were the best the country had ever achieved and far better than they had expected. When the athletes returned from Doha, they were met by exuberant fans at Changi International Airport. The country’s appreciation and respect for its athletes was no longer in any doubt. It had been a long time in coming but there would be no turning back.
Highlights of Singapore’s history at the Asian Games
The end of the Second World War brought great change across Asia, including independence for many Asian nations. As countries successfully rebuilt their economies, their leaders also saw the value in strengthening their ties across the region in a spirit of cooperation rather than conflict. In 1947 Indian Prime Minister Jawahalal Nehru first raised the possibility of an Asian sports meet. Earlier in the century, the Far East Championships had been held 10 times from 1913 to 1934. However, the Championships had been suspended with the outbreak of the War.
It was only natural that Asian countries would turn to sport to revive national feelings of optimism and pride. India pursued the idea at the 1948 London Games with other Asian leaders, and by February 1949, the Asian Athletic Federation had been formed. The first Asian Games would be held in New Delhi in 1951. In line with Olympic tradition, the Games would be held every four years, and the location would change, allowing countries to alternate as hosts of the Games.
When the 2002 Asian Games opened in Busan, Korea, Singapore came with an agenda to win medals. The country’s sports community was no longer content with being an also-ran. Remy Ong made sports history by winning three gold medals in bowling: the men’s singles event, the men’s masters and the team events. No other men’s bowler in the history of the Games had set the bar so high.
Singapore’s bodybuilders also showed that they had the right stuff in Busan. Standing at the top of the podiums were Abdul Halim Haron in the bantam weight and Simon Chua in the welterweight. Bodybuilding also picked up two silvers, courtesy of Ibrahim Sihat in the fly weight and Mohd Ismail Muhammad in the light heavyweight. Completing the picture was Amir Zainal’s bronze medal in bantam weight.
Overall, Singapore picked up 10 bronze medals in Busan. Sailors Teo Wee Chin, Sarah Tan, Joan Huang partnered with Toh Liying this time, and Tan Wearn Haw & Chung Pei Ming added to the cache of bronze medals. Singapore’s No.1 swimmer at the time, Joscelin Yeo scored a bronze in the 100 metre butterfly. In table tennis, 21 year-old Li Jiawei won a bronze medal—her first at the Asian Games. The Ladies Team also won the bronze medal, thanks to the all-round playing power of Li Jiawei, Jing Junhong, Tan Paey Fern and Zhang Xueling.
The Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998 saw four other sailors win gold medals. Naomi Tan and Joan Huang triumphed in the Ladies 420 class while Siew Shaw Her sailing with Colin Ng won in the Mens 420. Joan Huang was only 16 years old and deferred her O Level exams in favour of training for the Asian Games. Naomi Tan had to take unpaid leave of absence for her teaching job to prepare for the Games. Not only did they win Best Team of the Year award in 1999, Joan Huang won Sportswoman of the Year.
Singapore won three silver medals in Bangkok, thanks to Tan Tiong Boon in cuesports, Jesmine Ho in bowling and Anthon Kiong in sailing.
The country also won nine bronze medals—something that hadn’t happened since the 1970 Asian Games. The women’s trio of Jesmine Ho, Alice Tay and Grace Young brought home a bronze medal as did sailing’s Charles Lim & Tan Wearn Haw in the International 470, Roy Tay in the International Optimist and Tracy Tan in the International Europe. Sepaktakraw won a bronze in the men’s team event. Shooting also scored a bronze medal in the mens doubles trap team event, with Lee Wung Yew picking up a bronze in trap shooting as well. Ladies squash contributed another two bronzes while Picasso Tan from wushu secured the final bronze.