Life is made up of different experiences and memories which shape, influence and enrich us. Some experiences make such an impact that they become truly unforgettable. My experience as a member of the Singapore contingent at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics can be described as such. From the sweat and tears shed in training, to the glorious moment of marching at the Opening Ceremony, to the deep friendships made… my memories of Melbourne are truly ones that I will always cherish.
I recall how challenging it was to juggle school work and training while I vied for a place in the national water-polo team that was to represent Singapore in the 1956 Olympics. As a 19 year old school boy from Raffles Institution, I dreamt of making my family, my school, and my club, the Chinese Swimming Club, proud.Being selected for the Olympics was my biggest dream.
For seven days a week for one full year, I trained relentlessly with total dedication and commitment. Looking back, the sacrifices and efforts made were well worth it – being selected as a member of the Olympic team was a dream come true. Without a doubt, it was the crowning achievement of my whole sporting career.
As a teenager visiting Melbourne for the first time in 1956, I discovered a very interesting and fascinating city. The Games Village was at Heideberg, a town near Melbourne. We were housed in four bedroom bungalows with good amenities. With thousands of athletes from all over the world mingling and sharing experiences, the whole atmosphere was vibrant and exciting. Many athletes exchanged country pins as mementos and I still keep these pins to this day. As a first timer to the Olympics, I was fascinated by the different types of food offered on the menu. There was something from every culture. I remember savoring Western cuisine, because in the 50s, it was very costly to eat in Western restaurants in Singapore.
At that time, the standard of water polo as a sport was at its peak. We saw for ourselves how tough the competition was and how high the standards were in the other teams. We also had the opportunity to witness the infamous “bloody match” between Hungary and Russia where both team members fought one another. It was daunting to compete with the best and most skilled teams in the world.
The most memorable event was the march-pass at the Opening Ceremony. As we marched into the Melbourne Cricket Ground, our hearts were filled with pride and joy. We felt so honoured to represent our small country Singapore. I will always remember standing tall and marching proudly in our smart uniforms as we waved enthusiastically with our white hats. The stadium was filled to capacity and the spectators cheered and gave us a thunderous applause. After the colourful march-pass and impressive performances, athletes ran in with the Olympic torch and lit the Olympic flame. It was truly a moving and exhilarating experience for everyone. Witnessing and being a part of this event has left an indelible mark in my life. It remains one of my life’s richest experiences.
I also established many lasting friendships as a result of the 1956 Olympics. The high point for many Australians that year was the ability to visit the Games Village. Hundreds of them would wait outside and request returning athletes to take them in. I did a good deed by bringing a couple and their three year old daughter to visit our facilities inside the village. They were so excited and grateful that they invited me out for a picnic by the seaside. The little girl has grown up and just a few years ago, she visited me in Singapore with her family. I am glad that I contributed to good friendships between Singapore and Melbourne in a small way.
For many national athletes, memories and experiences such as the Olympics would not be possible without the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC). The SNOC has made every effort to ensure Singapore’s participation at International Meets. Events such as the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Olympic Games are opportunities that develop our athletes and give them a world-perspective to their sport.
Recently, in March 2006, I was privileged to be the Chef-de-Mission for the Singapore team at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. I visited the same Games Village where I stayed and marched in the same Melbourne Cricket Ground. What an experience it was! I felt the same pride and joy as I did 50 years ago. It was truly unforgettable!
I want to express my gratitude to the SNOC for their tremendous support and for giving me the opportunity to relish such a memorable sporting experience.
Dr. Tan Eng Liang