By DARYLL NANAYAKARA
IT MAY be one of the earliest sports recorded in history but, in Singapore, the popularity of wrestling has only just begun.
Thanks to next year's inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG), where wrestling is one of the 26 official sports, young Singaporeans are flocking to the full-body contact activity, much to the delight of the Wrestling Federation of Singapore (WFS).
Formed a year ago, the WFS has quickly raised the sport's profile by introducing it to Singapore schools. Just last month, wrestling was officially recognised as a co-curricular activity.
Said the federation's vicepresident, Mr Jimmy Taenaka: "The response has been overwhelming, but that's something that we had expected because we knew Singaporeans would take to the sport."
The 44-year-old Japanese- American, a former Greco-Roman wrestler, is also training the wrestlers who will don the national colours at the YOG.
As the host nation, Singapore are guaranteed two spots in the sport. And Mr Taenaka believes that, since wrestlers compete in their respective weight categories, Singapore's athletes would enjoy a fair chance of success.
He said: "It is a fair game where the person who works and trains the hardest will emerge as the winner." Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to attract more youngsters, theWFS runs a number of demonstrations at various schools, such as the two-hour session it conducted last week for more than 300 students at North Vista Secondary School.
The event was no mere showand- tell session. Instead, the students were pitted against the national wrestlers in a series of fun activities.
Mr Taenaka is quick to allay the concerns of some parents, who may worry that wrestling is a dangerous activity comprising back-breaking body slams. He said: "Wrestling on television is entertainment.
"What we practise here is a proper sport, with rules and regulations in place to ensure the wrestlers' safety. In fact, it's safer than soccer or rugby."
Indeed, the demonstration was an eye-opener for most of the North Vista students.
Said Chua Hien Eng, 18: "I was not very interested at first but, after seeing what wrestling is all about, I am interested in learning more."
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