Singapore's only Olympic medallist
Sat, Jul 21, 2007
The New Paper

TAN Howe Liang owns the distinctive honour of being the only Singaporean athlete to have won an Olympic medal.

That was in the 1960 Rome Olympics, where he lifted his way to a silver medal in the lightweight division.

Forty-seven years have past by, but no Singaporean athlete has yet to match or better the former weightlifter's achievement.

Born in Swatow, Tan is the third of eight siblings. He settled in Singapore with his family when he was four years old.

It all started for Tan, who grew up in Chinatown, when he walked past the former Gay World Amusement Park with his friends one day.

He witnessed his first weightlifting competition and fell in love with the sport instantly.

His potential was there for all to see. After only one year of training, Tan, then 20, became the national junior and senior champion in the lightweight division in 1953.

The lack of financial support meant that Tan had to pay out of his own pocket to finance his training and expenses.

At that time, he was working as a clerk at Cathay Organisation.

But he plodded on, all because of a a promise he made to his late father.

'One day, I will be the strongest man in the world,' he had promised his father.

His Teochew father had died in a Sago Lane death-house when Tan was 14. Like any dutiful son, he kept to his promise and delivered a silver medal at the 1960 Olympic Games.

Not after a failed attempt four years earlier in Melbourne, where he blacked out during the competition.

It wasn't smooth-sailing for the strongman in Rome either.

Russia's Viktor Busheuv had already won the gold by smashing the world record.

It was down to Tan and Iraq's Abdul Wahid Aziz for the silver medal.

Tan had one lift left (clean-and-jerk) when he felt some pain in his legs.

The doctors advised that he return to the Athletes' Village for treatment.

That would have meant a withdrawal from the competition but there was no way he was going to give up.

He competed through the pain barrier to claim the silver.

Now 74, Tan looks not a day older than 60, thanks to a regular exercise regime.

Compared to the present day where athletes are promised a reward of $1 million for winning a gold medal at the Olympics, Tan did not receive any monetary rewards for his colossal effort in 1960.

Humble by nature, Tan never complained.

He was given the honour of being the flagbearer at the closure of the National Stadium last month.


THE day was 8 Sep, 1960.

The venue - the Palazetto Dello Sport Hall in Rome.

Tan, then 27, lifted a total of 380kg in the lightweight (67.5kg) category to beat 33 rivals for second place. He was pipped to the gold medal by Russia's Viktor Busheuv.

Two years earlier, Tan established a world record in the jerk (lightweight division) with a lift of 347 pounds at the 6th British Empire & Commonwealth Games, now known as the Commonwealth Games, in Cardiff.

He also struck gold at the 3rd Asian Games in Tokyo that year.

A year later, he won a gold medal at the inaugural South-east Asian Peninsular Games in Bangkok.

Tan's Olympic medal made him the only Singaporean to have won a medal at all the major international games - the Seap Games, the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.

He became the first weightlifter in the world to be awarded the International Weightlifting Federation (national honour) Gold Award in 1984.

He is the only athlete to be bestowed the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) at the National Day awards.

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