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Godfrey Robert
Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Sports

C'wealth Games: We believe in you, Joe

The New Paper | Godfrey Robert | Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Joseph Schooling (top) will charge for history in Glasgow in his bid to outdo Ang Peng Siong’s performances at the Commonwealth Games.

Scotland has never been a happy hunting ground for Singapore at the Commonwealth Games. In 1970, when Edinburgh staged the Games, a Majulah Singapura recording was among the items in Singapore delegation chief Othman Wok's luggage.

But it was not played at the medal presentation ceremony as Singapore returned with no gold medals, but a silver and bronze. When the Games went back to Edinburgh in 1986, Singapore - despite being buoyed by the presence of a behemoth in Ang Peng Siong who was the world's fastest swimmer over 50 metres four years earlier - again bagged zilch where gold was concerned (only a bronze).

Now, 28 years later, when Scotland is the host again but this time in the city of Glasgow, the expectation is that our national anthem will be played several times over.

Table tennis, introduced to the Games in 2002 in Manchester, and probably shooting - as it was in New Delhi four years ago - will ensure that. Before that, especially from the '50s to the '70s, it was weightlifting, with the likes of Tan Howe Liang, Tan Ser Cher and Chua Phung Khim, striking gold for Singapore.

But what about the two compulsory sports of athletics and swimming?

Singapore have been mere also-rans in athletics, and even C Kunalan, probably the greatest sprinter the country has produced, could not get past the heats as he managed only 10.7sec in the 100 metres in 1970, an event won by the legendary Jamaican, Don Quarrie, in a then-remarkable 10.24.

NOT A THREAT

Singapore fared slightly better in swimming, but even the likes of Patricia Chan, Tay Chin Joo, Junie Sng, Joscelin Yeo, Ang Peng Siong and David Lim - all multiple gold medallists at the South-east Asia Games - lagged behind the Commonwealth powerhouses.

There was the occasional flutter of a silver and bronze from weightlifting and boxing, but Singapore were never taken seriously by our Commonwealth sporting rivals.

But we have always been supporters of the quadrennial event, famously dubbed the "Friendly Games", since we first took part in 1958 in Cardiff where we struck gold through Howe Liang and Ser Cher.

Inaugurated in 1930 with only 11 participating nations as the British Empire Games, it was seen as a platform to demonstrate Britain's colonial supremacy in military and rule - from Canada to Australia and New Zealand in addition to the Pacific Islands.

In 1954, the event was renamed British Empire and Commonwealth Games until 1966 before it was called the British Commonwealth Games for the 1970 and 1974 editions.

From 1978, it was simply named the Commonwealth Games, but the spirit remained the same - boast of British might in sport peppered with doses of jingoism.

As the curtains are raised for the 20th edition of the Games tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the historic significance of the event is not lost as many traditions are strictly followed as the British Queen and royalty grace the venues.

There is also a lesson in geography at these Games for among the 71 countries taking part this time are Dominica, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands.

There is no doubt Singapore will shine at these Games because table tennis aside, we should pick up medals (hopefully gold) in shooting, badminton, gymnastics and weightlifting.

And a major talking point is whether South-east Asia's swimming power can break their medal hoodoo in aquatics.

Coincidentally it was in another Scottish city that the whole of Singapore waited with similar high anticipation for that breakthrough. Having seen him from the stands finish ninth-best at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, I cringed again when his late burst at the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh was just not enough.

Our pride and often source of inspiration, Ang Peng Siong, missed out on the 100m freestyle final by a whisker - 0.21sec to be exact. "That start, that gun," were his first words to me in utter disappointment.

As the ninth qualifier, he waited in vain for a pullout, but, like in Brisbane four years earlier, the affable Ang became a spectator for the final.

The then-Houston University student had clocked 52.16sec in the semi-finals - 0.77sec slower than the best-timed Greg Fasala of Australia - and remained the ninth-fastest qualifier.

At this Games, the nation's hopes rest on the broad shoulders of teenage swimmer Joseph Schooling, who has been tipped to win a medal in the 200m fly (his best time is 0.99sec faster than the third-placed time of the last Games, 1min 57.26sec).

There is no United States nor China at the Commonwealth Games. But don't be mistaken: world-best and world-class performances are par for the course in track and field and swimming at these Games namely from Australia, Canada, South Africa, Britain and the Caribbean nations.

Read: Quarrie, Frankie Fredericks, Ben Johnson, Daley Thompson, Sebastian Coe, Alan Wells, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Ian Thorpe... the list goes on.

So will the Texas University student Schooling take his place among that elite? We hope, we believe and we pray.

If the 19-year-old does, history will be made and a nation will celebrate.


This article was first published on July 23, 2014.
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