Finally, in 1994 in Hiroshima, Japan, 26 year old Benedict Tan produced another first for Singapore—its first gold medal in sailing. Once again, a young Singaporean had done something that had never been done before in Singapore’s sports history. The young doctor was so well ahead of his competitors in the Laser class that he didn’t even have to sail the final race.
Sailing also won a silver medal through the partnership of Siew Shaw Her and Charles Lim. Joscelin Yeo set a new National record in the 100 metre butterfly with a time of 1.01.62, and got a bronze medal. Bowler Grace Young also won a bronze medal. The third bronze was picked up by the mens team in sepaktakraw. Women in the martial arts also took bronze medals: Tan Mui Buay and Chiew Hui Yan in separate Wushu events.
One of my best sporting moments must be winning an Asian Games gold medal (with Naomi Tan) in Bangkok in 1998. I felt good, too, about winning a bronze in the 2002 Asiad in Busan. For me, competing against the best in Asia like the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans only reminds me how much work there is to be done. At the same time, it’s a nice feeling to know we, at our best, can give them a run for their money.” Sailor Joan Huang, gold medalist at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.
Seoul 1986, Beijing 1990
For the next two Asian Games, Singapore’s performance was mediocre. At Seoul in 1986 and Beijing in 1990, Singapore won one silver each and four bronze. As other Asian countries were improving their records, Singapore clearly was going nowhere in its development of athletes.
New Delhi 1982
Indeed, in 1982 in New Delhi, Singapore won exactly three medals—two bronzes and one triumphant gold by swimmer Ang Peng Siong. Only 20 years old, Ang was a spectacular athlete as he proved more than once in 1982. He set the world record in 1982 for the 50-metre freestyle with a time of 22.69. At the Asian Games, Ang won the 100-metre freestyle, giving Singapore its only gold medal that year.
In 1978, an even younger Singaporean girl would win gold at the Asian Games in Bangkok: in fact, 14 year-old Junie Sng would win two gold medals. Coached by Kee Soon Bee, who had won a silver medal as a water polo player at the inaugural Asian Games in 1951, Junie was a feisty endurance swimmer. She won a silver in the 200 metre, but the longer the distance, the more she shone. She broke the 400-metre freestyle record by more than four seconds—an eternity in swimming. The next day, she swam to victory in the 800-metre.
Without Junie, Singapore would have been locked out of the gold medals. The country managed to finish the Games with a total of seven medals, but the trend was not looking good.
However, in 1974 in Tehran, a young girl of 19 would bring the gold home to Singapore. Chee Swee Lee set a new Games record for the 400-metre race and a Singapore national record with a time of 55.08 seconds. It was the first time a woman from Singapore had won a gold medal at the Asian Games.
Bangkok 1966 & 1970
Even in 1966 in Bangkok when the country won 12 medals, no athlete was able to place first at the Asian Games. Singapore won five silver medals and seven bronzes. History repeated itself in 1970, again in Bangkok, when Singapore failed to win a gold medal. This time, Singapore won six silvers and nine bronzes.
New Delhi 1951
Eleven countries sent 489 athletes to compete at the inaugural Asian Games in March 1951. Athletes from Afghanistan, Burma, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand competed in athletics, aquatics, basketball, cycling, football and weightlifting in the eight-day Games. Korea was unable to participate because of the Korean War.
Japan emerged from the event as the overall winner, with 24 gold medals, 20 silvers and 14 bronzes. Host country India placed second with 15 gold medals, 18 silvers and 19 bronzes. Japan’s participation in the Asian Games heralded its return to normalcy after the War. Japan had been barred from taking part in the London Olympics as a consequence of the country’s starting the War in the Pacific. However, they came to the Asian Games, expecting to win—and they did for the most part.
However, the very first gold medal won at the inaugural Asian Games was by Singaporean Mr. Neo Chee Kok in the 1500 metre freestyle. Nicknamed the ‘Flying Fish’, Neo swept the freestyle events, winning four gold medals—much to the chagrin of the Japanese. Neo shared the freestyle 400 gold medal with teammates Lionel Chee, Wiebe Wolters and Barry Mitchell. Neo also set a record for the 400-metre freestyle with a time of 5:13:8. They were coached by Kee Soon Bee.
Chee, Wolters and Mitchell also won a silver medal in water polo, with Tan Hwee Hock, Ho Kian Bin, Keith Mitchell, Tan Wee Eng and Kee Soon Bee, who was a player, not a coach, in this event. (In 1954 Singapore would win a gold medal at the Asian Games.) Swimming in the 100 metre freestyle race, Wiebe Wolters won the silver medal, making it a 1-2 for Singapore. Wolters, then 19 years old, had come to Singapore from Indonesia after the end of the War. Singapore also achieved a third silver medal in the 3 x 100 medley relay.
In athletics, Mr. Ng Liang Chiang won the 110-metre hurdles in 15.2 seconds while Lloyd Valberg, who was Singapore’s sole athlete at the 1948 Olympics, won the bronze in that event. Mr. Ng picked up a bronze in the 400 metre hurdles as well. Laura Dowdswell won two medals in athletics, in the 200 metre race and the 80-metre hurdles.
At the New Delhi Games, Singapore also showed great promise in weightlifting. In the 67.5 kg category, Ho Foon Onn won a silver medal on the back of a combined 292.5 kg. Team mate Cheong Kok Cheong also took a silver medal in the 82.5 kg category, lifting 317.5 kg.
In total, Singapore had won five gold medals, seven silvers and two bronzes. It was an encouraging beginning for Singapore. Unfortunately, for many years, it would prove impossible for Singapore to improve upon its 1951 results.