Finding horses, facing a sporting giant and running 15km in flip flops – What went down at Singapore 2010
By Ruth Yap
In 2010, Singapore made history when it became the first country to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG). As we celebrate the 10th anniversary this month, here are 10 little known facts about the Games for your Olympic conversation starters.
1. No horsing around
To get the perfect horses for the equestrian events, members of the organising committee scoured the globe as they flew to Germany, China, Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, they tried out more than 100 horses before finally settling on a herd of 38. These horses were treated like royalty. On the eight-hour flight to Singapore, they were accompanied by an entourage comprising of a veterinarian, five horse groomers, and four riders. The true VIPS of the YOG indeed.
2. Tiny red dot vs global superpower
The final round of the YOG bidding process pitted tiny Singapore against the mighty Moscow. With the Russian capital being a veteran host of the 1980 Summer Olympics, we were the clear underdogs with our inexperience. But the YOG is meant to allow more countries the chance to host an Olympic event, and our weakness became our strength and Singapore eventually won the bid by 53 to 44 votes. Padang erupted in jubilation.
3. When art meets sports
The YOG wasn’t just a celebration of sport. It was an exhibition of art too, as the Marina Bay area saw the installation of Olympic-themed public artworks which still stands. Walk down The Promontory@Marina Bay today and keep an eye out for a massive circular red and black sculpture. Made by sculptor Huang Yi Fan, this artwork, themed ‘A World United’ depicts athletes engaging in all 26 YOG sports. Take some time to see if you’re able to identify each sport.
4. The swimmers who never swam in a pool
It’s a story that may just inspire you to head for the nearest swimming pool. Before diving into the waters of the Singapore Sports School’s pool, Liberian swimmers Sima Weah and Mika-Jah Teah had never been in a swimming pool before as there were simply none in their country. To train, the pair swam in the open river. Although they finished more than 24 seconds behind the fastest qualifiers in Singapore, history was made – the duo were the first swimmers to ever represent their country internationally.
2010 was certainly a year of many firsts for them. Before coming to Singapore, they had never been on a plane before. But the 12,700km trip here saw them taking four flights, with more than a full day of travel. It’s like an episode from the Amazing Race.
5. Roping in the superstars
With the YOG largely an unknown event back in 2010, some much needed stardust was required to raise its global profile. Enter Michael Phelps – who had won a record eight golds at Beijing 2008. The swimmer, who would later on become the most bemedalled athlete in Olympic history, would become the YOG’s very first ambassador. Soon after that, a certain Usain Bolt signed on as a YOG ambassador too. With two Olympic titans as the faces of the YOG, word of the Games quickly spread across the globe. Now that’s what you call star power.
6. No pain, no gain
Singapore diver Myra Lee is no quitter. Despite suffering a debilitating back injury during the 10m platform preliminary rounds that left her unable to even arch her back, the then 16-year-old powered through the pain. Unable to properly control her body and takeoffs, she risked aggravating the injury further with each dive. But she persevered. Although she eventually finished last in the final, she had captured the hearts of Singaporeans with her bravery. That itself is worth more than any medal.
7. From silver medalist to world champion
Here’s a sporting story that can probably be made into a movie. While New Zealander Joseph Parker had the potential, the boxer did not have the financial resources to get to Singapore 2010 – until a fundraising campaign selling chocolates and trinkets helped pay for his trip. True enough, this Kiwi lived up to his potential in Singapore by bagging a silver. Since then, Parker has witnessed a meteoric rise. After turning professional in 2012, he went on to become New Zealand’s first boxer to win a world heavyweight championship in 2016. We had Rocky and Creed. Will Parker be next?
8. Running 15 km in flip-flops
Athletes weren’t the only ones who inspired at the YOG. During the six-day torch relay that saw the Olympic Flame traverse around Singapore, 12-year-old Loh Wei Jie became an instant celebrity when he ran for over two and a half hours in slippers just to keep up with the relay. Braving the heavy rain, sweltering heat and pain in his feet, the tenacious Loh clocked a remarkable distance of 15km. His feats led to him eventually becoming a torch bearer on the final day of the relay. With such determination and talent, he could have easily participated in athletics at the YOG too!
9. The Olympic learning lab
The Youth Olympics isn’t just a sports event for athletes – it’s an education seminar as well. During the YOG, Singapore turned into a classroom for over 2,500 athletes who explored the country as part of the Games’ Culture and Education Programme. For instance, they visited the Marina Barrage to learn about the country’s efforts in combating water pollution, and even got their hands dirty by planting trees along the Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade. Learning without exams is the best type of lessons there is.
10. The hardy Haitians
The football team from Haiti didn’t only come to Singapore for glory. They also came to bring some much-needed respite to their country which had recently suffered a devastating earthquake that left over 300,000 dead. As a result of the disaster, the team was only formed six weeks before the YOG, but quickly gelled together over a shared goal to bring smiles to the faces of their fellow countrymen. They turned pain into strength by valiantly clinching a silver medal, inspiring a new Olympic folklore.