Monday, 12 September 2016

Rio Paralympics 2016: Yip Pin Xiu nets Gold with a World Record

By Wang Meng Meng, The Sunday Times, 11 Sep 2016

There was never any doubt.

Dominating from start to finish, Yip Pin Xiu won Singapore's first Rio Paralympics gold in style early yesterday morning - setting a new world record time of 2min 7.09sec in the 100m backstroke (S2) final.

The 24-year-old, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, which affects her eyesight, admitted that she could not see any of her five challengers in the water.

She relied on mental strength to push her all the way to victory - the fruit of four years of labour, which includes at least 12 training sessions weekly.

The Singapore Management University student slashed 2.7sec off her own world mark yesterday to easily beat China's Feng Yazhu (2:18.65) and Ukraine's Iryna Sotska (2:21.98).

"When I touched the wall, the first thing I saw was the Singaporean crowd jumping and, at that moment, I knew I was first," said Yip, who became the country's first and still only Paralympic gold medallist after she won the 50m backstroke (S3) in Beijing in 2008.

"Pin Xiu, you have made Singapore very proud today," posted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his Facebook page, sharing the sentiments of President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

"Her amazing achievement reminds us that with hard work, determination and grit, we can overcome the odds and come out on top," PM Lee added.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling, who brought home Singapore's first Olympic gold when he won the 100m butterfly at the Rio Games last month, also posted his congratulations on Facebook.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu added that a public celebration has been planned for Singapore's Paralympians when they return from Rio.

Yip's next race is the 50m backstroke (S2) on Thursday.

Singapore's S2 100m backstroke world record holder Yip Pin Xiu on beating jitters
Pin Xiu overcomes pre-race nerves to rule the pool, finishing more than 10sec ahead of field
By Joan Chew, In Rio de Janeiro, The Sunday Times, 11 Sep 2016

She and her team had been raring to hit the pool at the Rio Olympic Aquatics Stadium for days, eager to get rid of the "itch" to race.

Yet, just hours before her first Rio Paralympic race on Friday, Yip Pin Xiu was racked with doubt, just like any top athlete. It does not matter if she was to swim in the 100m backstroke (S2), a race which she is the fastest in the world bar none.

How fast would her body react to the starting pistol? Would her muscular dystrophy, which causes her muscles to gradually lose their ability to function, claim her ambition, as it had her body?

As she told The Sunday Times: "I was actually very nervous the whole day.

"We (athletes) have doubts sometimes, we don't know if today is a good day for our bodies."

She need not have worried. Her arms were burning as she paddled furiously during the race, but so was her iron will, one that had seen her defy bullies who had thrown staples at her when she was young because she looked different.

And it carried her to not only a Paralympic gold, but also two world records.

In stopping the clock at 2min 7.09sec and shaving more than two seconds off her own previous world record time of 2:09.79, she also broke the 50m backstroke world mark with her split of 59.38sec.

The gold is Singapore's first medal won at the Rio Games, which started on Thursday.

It also ensured that the Majulah Singapura national anthem was played at the same venue for the second time this year, almost a month after fellow swimmer Joseph Schooling had claimed the nation's first-ever Olympic gold medal in the 100m butterfly.

Yip, who won Singapore's first Paralympic gold back at the 2008 Beijing Games, could yet break new ground on Thursday night (Friday morning, Singapore time).

Then, she will be bidding to become the first Singaporean to win two golds at a single Paralympics when she competes in the 50m back (S2), an event in which she will be the hot favourite again, after her world-record setting feat.

Still, she said: "I don't want to think about it and pressure myself medal-wise, but I'm more confident about my fitness level right now."

The 24-year-old won by a staggering 11.56sec over second-placed Feng Yazhu (2:18.65) of China. Ukraine's Iryna Sotska (2:21.98) clinched the bronze amid a field of six swimmers.

The Singaporean had set the previous 100m back mark at the International Paralympic Committee Swimming European Open Championships in Funchal, Portugal, in May.

After she touched the wall of the pool and surfaced for air, Yip - who by her own admission has "terrible" eyesight because of myopia as well as a left eye whose optic nerves have been damaged by muscular dystrophy - noticed the pockets of Singaporeans in the spectator stands jumping.

"At that moment, I knew I got first (place)," she said.

The final-year Singapore Management University social sciences undergraduate added: "I was dying during the race, trying my hardest to pull (with my hands).

"I couldn't really see who was beside me.

"It was really just a lot of mental strength to go at my fastest-ever speed and to compete against myself and my previous times."

Her coach Mick Massey agreed that they were under pressure to win as she was the world record holder going into the final.

The Briton, who wheeled Yip into the mixed zone after her race, said: "We said we want to be on the podium. The truth is, we wanted to win the gold."

Massey, who fondly calls his charge PX, said it took "a lifetime" for her to achieve this result and admitted that they had been raring to go days before the race.

"For the last few days, all we wanted to do was race," he said.

"You get up, you just want to do it because you don't want to think about it anymore. It's crazy."

Yip started swimming when she was five, but began racing in 2004. Back then, she was racing in the S3 class, and in her debut Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, she snared a gold (50m backstroke S3) and a silver (50m freestyle S3).

In Rio, she is now competing in the S2 class. In disability sport, for physical impairments, the classification ranges from 1 to 10. The lower the number, the more severe the impairment.

Friday's feat left the Team Singapore contingent, who were watching Yip race, overjoyed.

Chef de mission Ho Cheng Kwee said he was "incredibly proud" of Yip and is "confident that this will be the start of a few more medals".

Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council, called it "an exciting day" for Singapore.

She said: "We hope that the people with special needs in Singapore can see that it is not about their disabilities.

"It is about them pushing themselves, discovering their abilities and talents and then to be passionate about it and work hard towards it, which is what Pin Xiu did."

Dr Chiang Hock Woon, deputy chief executive officer of Sport Singapore, added: "She has just shown us what the human spirit is capable of in times of great adversity.

"We're all very proud of her."

Yip Pin Xiu will spur more glory
Swimmer lauded all round as gold-winning feat augurs well for more triumphs in Rio
By Nicole Chia, The Sunday Times, 11 Sep 2016

Yip Chee Khiong and Margaret Chong did not know their daughter, Yip Pin Xiu, had made history at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro until several hours after her feat.

The 24-year-old Singaporean swimmer had won the 100m backstroke (S2) in a world-record time of 2min 7.09sec yesterday.

Both 61, Yip and Chong were en route to Rio to support their daughter, and learnt of her triumph only after landing in their stopover in Dubai.

Said Chong: "It was always good that she gets better with each race. Getting a gold and in world-record time is a bonus. Her years of training have paid off and we are very happy and proud of her."

Chong and Yip will be at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Thursday evening (Rio time) to support their daughter in her next event, the 50m backstroke (S2).

In the 100m backstroke (S2), Yip finished ahead of China's Feng Yazhu (2:18.65) and Ukraine's Iryna Sotska (2:21.98) at the same arena to bag Singapore's first medal of the Rio Paralympics, which began on Thursday.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote on Facebook: "I hope Pin Xiu's Gold will be only the first of many pieces of good news we will hear from Rio in the coming week."

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Grace Fu also congratulated the swimmer on their respective Facebook pages.

Mr Tan, who is also president of Singapore National Olympic Council president, wrote: "Awesome Pinxiu Yip! Gold. Paralympic & World record. 100m backstroke S2. Well done!"

Ms Fu added that a public celebration is in store for the Republic's Paralympians when they return.

Fellow swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore's first Olympic gold medal last month, offered his congratulations in a Facebook post as well.

Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) president Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang lauded Yip's feat, saying the swimmer has "blazed the trail for Singapore's para-athletes".

Adding that she hoped Yip's triumph would inspire more disabled persons to pick up sport, Dr Teo-Koh said: "Her spectacular win (re-writing her own world record) will inspire and motivate her fellow athletes to dream big and believe that everything is possible if you are willing to push yourself and train to achieve the goal of a podium finish.

"Pin Xiu's win is also testament that the human spirit can triumph over limitations; and challenge all of us to change our perceptions about what persons with disabilities can and cannot do."

SDSC vice-president Raja Singh believes disability sports will gain more traction in Singapore following Yip's repeat win. She had clinched her first gold in the 50m backstroke (S3) at the Beijing Games in 2008.

He said: "After the APG (Asean Para Games) there was a slight momentum for para sports - new sports like wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis were introduced, and the respective national disability sports associations as well as ActiveSG have been encouraging people to play sports.

"With Pin Xiu's win, we can certainly expect to see new developments in disability sports, and her win will also spur other athletes to continue training to achieve their goals."

The 55-year-old, a former Paralympian who competed in the 1988 and 1992 editions of the Games, added that he was proud of the 13-strong Paralympic contingent.

"It's a big step to have 13 athletes at the Paralympic Games," he said. "Their achievements will bring a lot to other disabled athletes, who will be motivated to achieve the goals they set."

Theresa Goh bags Singapore's 2nd medal at Rio Games with bronze
At last, Goh wins elusive medal
After past near misses, Theresa Goh gets it right with bronze in her 4th Games outing
By Joan Chew, In Rio de Janeiro, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2016

After swimmer Yip Pin Xiu's gold medal at the Rio Paralympics last Friday, coach Mick Massey started to worry for her close friend Theresa Goh.

He pictured the athletes arriving back at Changi Airport to a welcome party, with all the attention on Yip - and Goh being ignored for coming home without a medal for a fourth straight Paralympics.

"I didn't want Theresa not to have a medal when we got to the airport," he admitted.

Thankfully, Massey can rest easy, as an emotional Goh finally broke her duck on Sunday evening with a bronze in her pet event, the 100m breaststroke SB4 final.

The 29-year-old, who was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down, clocked 1min 55.55sec to finish behind pre-race favourite Sarah Louise Rung of Norway (1:44.94) and Italy's Giulia Ghiretti (1:50.58).

She had qualified second fastest, setting a personal best of 1:54.50 in the heats.

The bronze was sweet reward for Goh's indefatigable persistence, despite suffering near-misses during her four Paralympic outings.

In her debut at Athens 2004, she finished fifth in the same event. Then at Beijing 2008, she was fourth, missing out on a medal by a mere 0.74sec.

Understandably, when she eventually found Yip on the sidelines of the Olympic Aquatics Stadium after the race, the two friends hugged and sobbed.

Later, Yip wrote on her Instagram account, together with a photo of her embracing a crying Goh: "The world needs to know how proud I am of you. You finally did it...

"You are now a Paralympic medallist after 17 years of training and perseverance. Nobody knows our journey like us and I am so incredibly proud of you."

Indeed, the medal means the world to Goh. She told The Straits Times: "If I want something, I have to get it myself. A lot of people were telling me to be brave, and that was the thing I kept repeating to myself: To be brave."

Even though Yip - who has muscular dystrophy - has won two golds, Goh insisted that there is no medal race between the duo.

She said: "I don't think it's fair to draw comparisons, just like how it's not fair to draw comparisons between Joseph Schooling's Olympic gold and Pin Xiu's gold. They are both equally amazing.

"What's important is that you know the athletes have done their best to get to where they are, whether they win a medal or not."

Her parents, Bernard and Rose, both of whom are in their late 50s, arrived in Rio on Saturday to cheer her on, under the sponsorship of oil major BP International. "It means even more that I have my parents here to watch me win," Goh said.

The trio finally met after her victory ceremony, with Rose shedding happy tears as she hugged the oldest of her three children. Bernard, a general manager, said they were "definitely very proud of her".

Massey praised his charge's "phenomenal" swim, even though Goh admitted to feeling "kancheong" (Hokkien for anxious) during the final, which contributed to a slower time than she did for the heats.

The Briton said: "You can look back at the times, the starts, they don't mean anything. The only thing that counts is making it onto the podium, which she did. I'm really proud of her."

To hone her front-end speed, he had instructed Goh to swim the first 50m of her first event on Thursday, the 200m freestyle S5 heats, in breaststroke.

Goh was ranked last out of 12 swimmers, but it was a good trial in preparation for the 100m breast race.

Massey summed it up by saying: "Tonight is Theresa's night, she is the star of the night.

"This medal will carry her throughout the rest of her life."

Last night, Goh finished 14th out of 16 swimmers in the 50m freestyle S5 heats in 45.45sec, and did not qualify for the final. She has one race left, the 100m freestyle S5 on Saturday.

Yip Pin Xiu wins 2nd gold at Rio Games

She wins 2nd crown to become 1st Singaporean to win multiple golds at same Paralympics
By Joan Chew, In Rio de Janeiro, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2016

Sleep was proving elusive for Yip Pin Xiu the night before her race towards history, bidding to become the first Singaporean to win multiple golds at the same Paralympics.

She went to bed at 9pm, only to find herself drifting in and out of sleep. At the back of her mind, she knew that she had trained hard, but was unsure if that was enough in the 50m backstroke S2 event despite being the world record holder and clear favourite.

A 30-minute delay at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio due to problems with the water pump only prolonged her nerves ahead of the final on Thursday night (Friday morning, Singapore time).

"I really just wanted to go into the pool," the 24-year-old, who was born with muscular dystrophy, told The Straits Times (ST) afterwards.

When she finally did, wheeled across to lane four by her coach Mick Massey, all that anxiety was released in the water as she stormed to a commanding victory.

Yip clocked 1min 0.33sec, ahead of China's defending champion Feng Yazhu (1:02.66) and Ukrainian Iryna Sotska (1:17.22).

It was Yip's second gold in Brazil - she won the 100m back S2 last week in a world-record time. Her split of 59.38sec in the first lap was also a world record in the 50m back S2. This was her fourth Paralympic medal overall after collecting a gold and silver at Beijing 2008, making her one of Asia's most successful female para-swimmers.

Such was the magnitude of her achievement that a host of politicians, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan Keng Yam, lauded her accomplishment on social media.

Yip, the reigning ST Athlete of the Year, said: "When I touched the wall, I was tired and panting a lot, but I didn't know who had won. I couldn't tell when I saw the crowd. I can't see the scoreboard without my glasses either."

Only when she got to the side of the pool and saw a smiling Massey did she know.

Yip's muscle-wasting disease is changing and weakening her body - she takes between 98 and 108 strokes to complete a 50m lap, much more than the 16 or so needed by an Olympic swimmer.

However, her team have repeatedly assured her that she is at her fittest now. To help her swim faster, Massey noted, hours were spent on helping her adopt a flat body position in the water.

"She has to try to swim on top of the water, as close to the surface as possible without dropping her hips.

"When she swims really quickly and is stroking at 65 times per minute, it is difficult for her to stretch her body.

"She can't stretch her legs, so what we do is we try to extend the hip flexors and push the glutes to stay on top of the water. Core work was a huge part in her training."

Yip's success also stems from a steely determination and the knowledge that she swims not only for herself but for a greater cause.

She said: "I don't think any word can describe my emotion. I'm happy about the race, I'm so grateful for the team and for Singaporeans supporting us. The support they have shown us in the past week has been enormous."


Triumph brings familiar faces together

By Yogaraj Panditurai and Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2016

She was nearly 16,000km away in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium but the ripples of Yip Pin Xiu's second gold at the Rio Paralympics were felt throughout Singapore yesterday morning.

An estimated 500 people, comprising staff, current and former students, gathered at Bendemeer Secondary School - she is an alumna - to watch the 24-year-old compete in the 50m backstroke S2.

The school had organised a live screening of the final in the school hall. The crowd, armed with flags and clappers, cheered loudly each time Yip appeared on screen. Even a 30-minute delay did little to quell the excitement.

Secondary 2 student Steffanie Lim, 14, said: "It was a very celebratory moment when she won because she just made history in a huge way. Even with her disability, she's able to push herself to the highest level and it's even nicer to know an ex-student did Singapore proud."

Anusha Rai, Yip's former classmate, remembers how driven her close friend was even back then. She aid: "She's always a fun and outspoken person. Pin Xiu back then and Pin Xiu now is the same person but just more focused and determined in her swim career."

Added Agnes Tan, Yip's former form teacher: "She's a very bubbly girl and was always very humble. She's very self-motivated and knows what she wants in life.

"I'm proud of her, beyond description. It's simply awesome what she has done in Rio. We still keep in contact and I already sent a congratulatory note on her second gold."

It was a similarly festive mood at the Singapore Sports Institute at the Sports Hub, where officials and about 25 national athletes had gathered to watch and cheer Yip on television at the Athletes' Lounge. They were joined by Minister for Social and Family Development and Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.

Captain of the national women's dragon boat team, Chua Jia Min, woke up at 4.30am to make the trip from her home in Boon Lay. She said: "She trains so hard and all her hard work paid off so we're all very happy for her. She's an inspiration for all of us. She perseveres throughout her entire journey, I'm sure it's not easy for her in training."

Athletes break new ground in Brazil

By Joan Chew, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2016

Even as Team Singapore depart Brazil today with their best-ever haul of golds at the Paralympics, some are already dreaming of making a mark outside the action.

Boccia player Nurulasyiqah Taha campaigned for a four-year seat on the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes' Council. She failed in her bid but remains undaunted in her mission to obtain greater representation on the council for athletes with high support needs.

Nurul, the only Singaporean and boccia player among the 22 candidates, told The Straits Times: "The role of the Athletes' Council goes beyond being a role model for para-athletes. It (involves) rising beyond my duties as an athlete to understand the needs and aspirations of my fellow athletes and work on fulfilling them."

She added: "I would like to see an increase in the quota allocated per National Paralympic Committee for officials or staff supporting such athletes."

When asked why she would like to take up a role acting as liaison between IPC decision makers and Paralympic athletes, she said it was "a natural progression" for her after competing in boccia for over a decade.

After 10 days of intense competition at the Rio Games, the Team Singapore athletes tucked into barbecued meat and cheese bread with the option of a caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, on Sunday evening (Brazil time).

They joined 60 Singaporeans at a celebratory dinner hosted by the Singapore embassy in Brasilia.

Over 10 days, the Republic was represented by 13 athletes across six sports - the largest contingent Singapore has ever had.

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu made history by becoming the first Singaporean to win two golds at the Paralympics, taking her total to three, following her first title at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Fellow swimmer Theresa Goh bagged a bronze, her first Paralympic medal after three previous Games.

Fine show is legacy of ASEAN Para Games

Largest contingent, record gold haul and personal bests mark progress for Singapore
By Joan Chew, In Rio de Janeiro, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2016

A record participation number, a record gold-medal haul and personal breakthroughs for the athletes - it has undoubtedly been a fruitful outing for Singapore's para-athletes at the Rio Paralympics.

For Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council, the reason is clear: The Rio performance is a legacy of last December's ASEAN Para Games (APG) held in Singapore.

Then, the Singapore contingent won a record 63 medals, including 24 golds. The APG also prepared the athletes adequately for the bigger sporting stage that is the Rio Games.

Dr Teo said: "The ASEAN Para Games have created awareness of para sports, and I'd like to think that these Rio Paralympics have successfully reached out to the majority of Singaporeans."

For these Rio Games, the Republic sent its largest-ever Paralympics contingent, with 13 athletes contesting in six sports disciplines.

The medal harvest was significant. For the first time in a single Paralympic Games, Singapore bagged two golds, courtesy of swimmer Yip Pin Xiu in the 50m and 100m backstroke S2 events.

A breakthrough bronze in the 100m breaststroke (SB4) from swimmer Theresa Goh - a veteran figure who has been to four such Games - also touched the hearts with her tenacity and perseverance.

The three-medal haul ranked Singapore 45th among 82 teams ahead of the final day of competition.

Besides the medallists, there were also close calls. For instance, boccia came close to a medal with Nurulasyiqah Taha and Toh Sze Ning beating several higher-ranked opponents before eventually losing in the bronze medal play-off to Greece.

It was the first time para-athletes outside of swimming and equestrian - which won medals in the last two editions of the Games- had a shot at a medal. Other athletes also broke their personal bests. Long jumper Suhairi Suhaini registered his best-ever jump of 6.69m.

Chef de mission Ho Cheng Kwee said he was "very proud" of the athletes, all of whom have had "a fantastic experience" at the Games, with many garnering invaluable experience.

One example is archer Syahidah Alim, who learnt from Rio that she may need to use heavier arrows to score well in windy conditions.

Besides stellar results, Singapore is also making waves outside the competition, with boccia player Nurulasyiqah campaigning for a four-year seat on the International Paralympic Committee Athletes' Council.

Although she failed in her bid, it was a clear message to the world of Singapore's intention to be an active participant for the Paralympic cause.

Said Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu: "The Games have also been more than just about the results, but it is how our athletes are inspiring our nation with their determination never to give up.

"In sports, we often have to deal with disappointments. We have to pick ourselves up and just keep going. Resilience is so important in sport, as in life."

Team Singapore's Rio performance


• Nur Syahidah Alim reached the individual compound quarter-finals, losing 135-137.


• T52 wheelchair racer Norsilawati Sa'at finished fifth out of five in the women's 100m (29.03sec) and 400m (1:49.56).

• Long jumper Suhairi Suhaini leapt to a personal best 6.69m in the T20 final.

• F40 thrower Muhammad Diroy Noordin did not achieve personal bests in his events: He was 11th out of 11 in the javelin (22.71 m) and ninth of 10 in the shot put (7.29m).


• Nurulasyiqah Taha and Toh Sze Ning lost the BC3 mixed pairs bronze play-off.


• Laurentia Tan was fifth out of 25 in the dressage championship test (Grade 1a) while Gemma Rose was 24th. Tan finished sixth of eight in the freestyle event.

• Maximillian Tan finished 10th out of 11 in championship test (Grade 1b)


• Jovin Tan and Yap Qian Yin ended up 10th out of 11 Skud18 teams. The duo pulled out after Yap suffered a seizure as they sat in seventh place after six races.


• Yip Pin Xiu struck gold in both her events, the 100m and 50m backstroke S2.

• Theresa Goh won her first Paralympic medal in the 100m breaststroke SB4. She did not progress beyond the heats in her three freestyle events.

Returning Paralympians make a splash at airport

By Nicole Chia, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2016

While most of the country was still asleep yesterday morning, a group of about 200 people waited patiently at Changi Airport's Terminal 3.

It was not for Hollywood stars or top English Premier League footballers. These Singaporeans were waiting for nine of their own - the Paralympians who represented the Republic at the recently concluded Rio Games.

Among the first to arrive was company executive Foo Wah Jong, 50, who reached the airport at 5am. She had taken leave from work for the day, and was at the airport with her sister and nephew.

She said: "People don't treat disability sports that seriously, but I think what they have accomplished is even more amazing than (what) able-bodied athletes (have done). I want to be here to support them, encourage them because I admire their spirit. I woke up to watch Pin Xiu (race in Rio) and I cried when she won."

The nine athletes who emerged from the luggage collection area to a blinding series of camera flashes and cheers included swimming medallists Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh.

Yip, who came home with two golds, thanked the crowd for the warm homecoming reception.

The 24-year-old added: "We're so grateful to everyone who supported us during the two weeks of the Games or way before that, and we'll continue to strive harder."

Touching on the issue of support, including calls for Paralympians and Olympians to receive equal cash prizes, Singapore National Paralympic Council chairman Teo-Koh Sock Miang noted that "at all levels of development, support is needed", not just in terms of monetary rewards.

A celebratory parade to mark the achievements of all 13 Paralympians will be held on Saturday morning and start at ActiveSG Sengkang Sports Centre in Anchorvale Road. The athletes will be driven in a convoy of cars, which will make a pit stop at the National Library before making its way to VivoCity.

Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Chua Siang Yee


It's not just the money: Yip Pin Xiu, Theresa Goh call for wider support for para-athletes

Rewards aside, Yip and Goh call for wider support in areas like training & development
By Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2016

Their feats at the recent Paralympics have re-ignited the debate on whether para-athletes deserve the same prize money as their able-bodied counterparts.

While Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh are thankful for those who have supported them and would welcome parity on that front, they said the ultimate goal is for their achievements to be recognised in the same bracket as Olympic athletes.

Yip, with three Paralympic golds (two earned this year and one in 2008), said: "Some people say it's (the Paralympics and) not as competitive but they don't see the value behind the sport, like how training is as tough, (or) that we work as hard. They just look at the result.

"But... we put in the same amount of effort. We're close to a bunch of other Team Singapore athletes and we know nobody trains less than each other."

Under the Singapore National Paralympic Council's (SNPC) Athlete's Achievement Award Programme, a gold medal at the Paralympics comes with a $200,000 award, while a bronze medal is rewarded with $50,000.

The Singapore National Olympic Council's Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme awards $1 million for an Olympic gold and $250,000 for a bronze. Both programmes are funded by the Tote Board and Singapore Pools.

However, Yip said prize money was never on her mind when she won gold medals in the 100m backstroke S2 and 50 backstroke S2 events in Rio.

"I didn't even think about it before the Paralympics," she said.

Goh, whose bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB4 final was her first after four Paralympics, said: "Equality will be nice, being treated equally, who wouldn't want that? It sucks when you see you're being treated differently from your able-bodied counterparts but it's life... but the prize money is just one part of it.

"There's so much more than just the reward at the end of your hard work. There's being there for the athlete when they're trying to get there and not just being there when they've achieved everything."

SNPC chairman Teo-Koh Sock Miang said she is grateful for the Tote Board and Singapore Pools for funding the programme and confirmed that discussions are ongoing to increase the prize money.

But she also called on those who believe there should be equality between Olympians and Paralympians to step up.

"If everybody out there keeps saying we should be equal, then step up to the plate. Corporations need to step up to the plate and not say everything is government," Teo-Koh said.

"If you truly feel very inspired by what our para-athletes have been doing, step up to the plate - not just for the awards system, step up to the plate to support para-sports because at all levels of development, support is needed.

"My challenge to everyone out there who says there's got to be equality - what I (say) to them is, 'What is your role in all of this? Shouldn't you yourself step forward and offer your support'?"

Hurrah for our Paralympians!

Hundreds gather to cheer the team's success during celebratory parade yesterday
By Chua Siang Yee, The Sunday Times, 25 Sep 2016

Chauffeured in a swanky convoy of sports cars, Singapore's 2016 Paralympians were the toast of the town yesterday as they celebrated the country's best performance at the Games with a half-day parade.

The 13-strong contingent were ferried in 11 Ferraris and two London cabs from Sengkang Sports Centre to VivoCity via the National Library, in honour of their fine showing in Rio de Janeiro, where Yip Pin Xiu won two golds and Theresa Goh clinched a bronze.

Back home, the sun was at its sizzling best yesterday but so were the spirits of the approximately 1,000 fans who turned up to cheer the para-athletes at designated pit stops and cheering points.

It was the second public celebration of sporting success in quick succession. Last month, swimmer Joseph Schooling embarked on an open-top bus parade to celebrate his Olympic gold, the country's first.

Yip, who also won a Paralympic gold at the 2008 Games, said: "Many Singaporeans stood under the sun to welcome us and we feel very touched that a lot of people would do that.

"We thank everybody for their support and we're so honoured to be able to do Singapore proud.

"This is really a good opportunity to be able to showcase what para sport is and how sport can unite a nation."

Proceedings started at Sengkang Sports Centre, where more than 100 fans rose early to catch a glimpse of the Paralympians.

Among them was Joanne Choo, there with parents Ging Yang and Sally. The 11-year-old said: "I read about Pin Xiu in the newspapers. She is an inspiration for me to work harder and to excel.

"I'm writing a speech about her for a public speaking course and wanted to see her in person."

Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min was also present. He hailed the team for their good showing and said they were an inspiration to all Singaporeans.

The entourage then left for the National Library. Along the way, they passed through Yip's Serangoon neighbourhood, where a huge crowd had formed at Braddell Heights Community Club to wave as the Ferrari carrying Yip zoomed past.

The convoy also passed by Yip's alma mater, Bendemeer Primary School, where some pupils and teachers stood waving mini Singapore flags.

At the National Library, Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua welcomed the contingent, together with students from Pathlight School, volunteers from welfare organisation Peace Connect and senior citizens from Kampong Glam.

The para-athletes were given tokens of appreciation by the Singapore Management University, where Yip is a social sciences undergraduate. It is also boccia player Nurulasyiqah Taha's alma mater.

After a short break, the party headed for VivoCity, where some 400 fans waited to congratulate them. They were led by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who told them: "Thank you for making us very proud... and we look forward to even more spectacular performances on behalf of Singapore."

At each stop, emcees held question-and-answer sessions for the public to get to know the athletes better. And this was how they learnt that Yip ate kway chap, nasi lemak, chwee kuay and fishball noodles - shared with her brother and sister-in-law - upon her return from Rio.

Also joining in the weekend jamboree were national athletes Shayna Ng (bowling) and Stephenie Chen (canoeing), who hosted a live session for the Team Singapore Facebook page.

The duo were also there to cheer for good friends Yip and Goh. Together, they are part of a 14-strong group of friends, many of them national athletes, who call themselves the "Sexayyss".

Ng said: "It was an honour to be part of the celebratory parade.I respect what they've done for the country and everyone should feel proud that we have this group of 13 great athletes representing Singapore."

The Paralympians will get another hurrah in Parliament, the same honour Schooling received.

Yesterday, Ms Fu wrote on Facebook: "By showing, so evidently, their tenacity and resilience to fly Singapore's flag high, our Paralympians have brought out the Singapore Spirit in us.

"I have invited the entire team of Paralympians to one of the upcoming Parliament sittings, to pay tribute to them for their extraordinary achievements."

Yesterday's festivities had some noting how far para sport had come in both achieving excellence and raising its public profile.

"Five years ago, it was hard to envisage such an outpouring of support for para-athletes," said Mr Tang Siew Hong, 61, an IT manager who is the father of para-swimmer Joshua Tang, 24.

Added former Olympian C. Kunalan, 74, who was at the library to lend his support: "These athletes have done something really unique that they've been doing for years, but without much support and visibility.

"I'm glad that there is new interest in para games and I hope this interest continues to keep up."

Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Nicole Chia


Parliament: Paralympian heroes

Para-athletes get standing ovation from the House
Rio Paralympics contingent formally congratulated by Parliament as MPs hail them for their feats
By Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2016

Team Singapore's 13-strong contingent at the Rio Paralympics was accorded a distinguished honour when the para-athletes were formally congratulated by Parliament yesterday, after a showing that was historic in more ways than one.

The sombre setting of the House made way for smiles and applause as the country's leaders gave the para-athletes a 30-second standing ovation for their feats.

This is the second time athletes have been honoured in Parliament. In August, swimmer Joseph Schooling received a standing ovation for winning the 100m butterfly gold at the Rio Olympics. The nine para-athletes present also had lunch with the politicians.

In Rio, Singapore fielded its largest contingent and had its best-ever medal haul - two golds and a bronze.

Swimmer Theresa Goh, who won a bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB4 in Rio, best summed up the sentiments of her teammates when she said: "It was surreal. It's not every day you get this kind of ovation. It's really nice to be recognised."

Yip Pin Xiu added one gold each in the 50m backstroke S2 and 100m backstroke S2. The 2008 Beijing Paralympic champion also finished with two world records.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who moved the motion to congratulate the Paralympians, said: "These 13 extraordinary athletes have shown us that with hard work and sacrifice, we can realise our dreams.

"Their achievements also exemplify how a nation as small as ours can punch above its weight."

Ms Fu named each athlete, sharing snippets of their sporting journey, including equestrienne Gemma Rose Foo, who ruptured her spleen when she fell from her horse six months before the Paralympics.

Others followed Ms Fu in hailing the para-athletes, including Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, MPs Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong and Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua.

Mr Tan, who is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), hailed the families and friends of the Paralympians for helping them "realise their dreams".

He also spoke about forging a more inclusive society, adding: "I call on all Singaporeans to play an active role in this inclusive journey. In big and small ways, never underestimate the difference we can make, whether as family members, classmates, employers, neighbours or simply as members of the public."

Ms Lim recalled how some of her friends' children with disabilities were buzzing with excitement during the Paralympics. She said: "Now, their children were seeing before their very own eyes that, through sporting competition, they too could one day don the national colours and bring glory to Singapore."

Ms Phua hailed them as role models for all Singaporeans, noting: "If you can do it, then perhaps the rest of us can rise above our daily ailments, grievances and complaints and take on life the way you do, against the odds; making lemonade of the lemons we are handed in life."

Ms Chia, president of the Society for the Physically Disabled, rounded off the speeches with an impassioned take on how far para-sport has come since Singapore first participated in the 1988 Paralympics. She also touched on equal prize money.

Under the Singapore National Paralympic Council's Athlete's Achievement Award Programme, a Paralympic gold has a $200,000 award, and a bronze, $50,000. The SNOC's Multi- Million Dollar Award Programme awards $1 million for an Olympic gold and $250,000 for a bronze. Both programmes are funded by the Tote Board and Singapore Pools.

Ms Chia said: "More than cash payment, it is about inclusion... If we persist in having two different standards of treatment between athletes and para-athletes, we reinforce the erroneous perception that people with disabilities are not able, and strengthen the barriers against building an inclusive society."

She also called on Singaporeans to back para-sports more. "The best of government schemes will not be good enough if we do not play our part to support our para-athletes.

"Get out of (the) living room. Can we be, if nothing else, a spectator?"

Additional reporting by Nicole Chia

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