Saturday 27 September 2014

Team Singapore at 17th Asian Games Incheon 2014

Chat made Games dream fly
Olympic vision began when late grand-uncle Valberg whetted Schooling's appetite
By Chua Siang Yee, In Incheon, The Sunday Times, 28 Sep 2014

Close to two decades ago, in a Vietnamese restaurant in Perth, the seeds of Joseph Schooling's Olympic dreams were sown.

The date is unclear but it was most likely some time in 1996 or 1997. Joseph, who was only a toddler, cannot recall much.

Parents Colin and May remember only bits and pieces.

But all three share the belief that the dream began when Joseph's grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg, Singapore's first Olympian in the 1948 Olympics (high jump), pulled him aside for a short chat, not too long before his death at age 74 in March 1997.

Said May, 59: "Joseph knew from a young age that he wanted to go to the Olympics, and I think it started from that conversation with his grand-uncle Lloyd.

"But when a kid comes to you and says he wants to go to the Olympics, you think, okay," his mum said, rolling her eyes.

But no one was rolling his eyes at Incheon this month when Joseph finished his maiden Asiad with one gold (100m butterfly), one silver (50m fly) and one bronze (200m fly), taking a big step towards his dream of a podium finish at the 2016 Olympics.

But for the University of Texas freshman, who has now won Commonwealth and Asian Games medals, the arduous road towards conquering the world stage is only just beginning.

Putting this in context, his best times this year in the 50m (23.43sec) and 100m (51.69sec) are 15th and eighth best in the world, while his 200m fly is 52nd, suggesting he is still far from the finished product.

His coach in Bolles School (Florida), Sergio Lopez, said Joseph needs to take his training to a higher level in order to star in 2016.

And Lopez believes that is exactly what he will get under former United States Olympic (2004 and 2008) men's swimming team head coach Eddie Reese in Texas.

Said Lopez, an Olympic bronze medallist for Spain: "We haven't done weights for him at Bolles so he should probably do Olympic lifts and other land exercises that will give him more speed, power and explosiveness."

Olympic-style weightlifting targets the fast-twitch muscle fibres in the body and improves an athlete's speed, flexibility and strength.

Added Lopez: "But he's going to do a little bit of everything - turns, underwater kicks, endurance, by doing more events and general conditioning, because his body is going to change and he'll have to keep adjusting.

"He's strong now but you'll see a big change in his physique next year (at the SEA Games).

"He's going to be stronger."

In a sport of fine margins, physique certainly plays a part.

China's Shi Yang, 25, who beat Joseph in the 50m fly, is 2cm taller at 1.86m and 7kg bulkier at 83kg.

As for the Singaporean, while his sights are set on a dream he has held for as long as he can remember, there is little doubt about who played the biggest role in his emergence as one of Asia's top swim stars.

"Without my parents, I wouldn't be here at all. If they didn't support me, or were not 100 per cent with me, this would never have happened," he said.

In 2008, when the Singapore Swimming Association shut down its Centre of Excellence (COE), Colin was convinced by ex-COE coach Jack Simon that the US was where Joseph's Olympic dream lay.

The Schoolings, who had to bear his school fees, expenses, transport and accommodation costs, took a leap of faith in 2009 and sent their only child abroad.

Colin, a 66-year-old businessman, estimates spending nearly US$1 million (S$1.26 million) on Joseph. That apart, there is also the heart-wrenching reality of being separated from their boy, only 14 at the time.

On average, the trio are together for only about three weeks a year.

Said May, a tennis player for Perak state: "At first, I didn't want him to go. But he told me 'Mum, if I am to get an Olympic gold medal, I have to go'.

"Grudgingly, I let him go but it was a painful decision."

Added Colin, a hurdler and water polo player who represented Singapore in softball: "Our ties are strong, we did this as a team because we love our son so much.

"We are all supportive of each other, and from day one, it was all about realising his dream."

Now that the Asiad is over, Joseph will embark on the next phase of his journey.

It will be harder because with one Olympics, one World Championships, one Commonwealth Games, one Asian Games and two SEA Games under his belt, he is now a marked man, not a new kid on the block with nothing to lose.

But at least one thing will not change - the unconditional parental support that has brought him this far on the journey.

My boy's a true son of Singapore: Schooling Sr
By Chua Siang Yee, The Sunday Times, 28 Sep 2014

Incheon - Talk of Joseph Schooling being a "foreign talent" still baffles the swimmer and his parents Colin and May.

Tell that to Colin and he will quickly rebut in Malay: "Nama saya Colin Schooling. Anak berna Singapura." ("My name is Colin Schooling, true son of Singapore.")

The 66-year-old businessman was born in Singapore and is fluent in English, Malay and Hokkien.

May, 59, a Chinese who hails from Ipoh in Malaysia, is a Singapore permanent resident and has lived here for over 30 years.

Said Colin: "My grandfather was an officer in the British army. He came from England and married a local Portuguese-Eurasian.

"But I was born here, so was my father. I see these comments many times on Internet forums. They say Joseph's father is an ang moh.

"I say, don't forget Eurasians are part of the Singapore population.

"The most important thing is we know who we are and what we are."

Joseph - his only child - was also born in Singapore.

The former Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student left for the United States five years ago at 14 to pursue his dream of winning a medal at the 2016 Olympics.

Said Joseph: "It used to bother me. I see it sometimes on Facebook. I used to get p****d but now I ignore them.

"They are just keyboard warriors so I just tune it out.

"I'm just glad to get the opportunity to do my country proud," added the swimmer who bagged one gold, one silver and one bronze in the Incheon Asiad.

Indeed, other than speaking with an American accent, an inevitable by-product of spending five years in the States, there is little to suggest that Joseph is not Singaporean.

And after hanging out with his team-mates for a few days in Incheon, bits of Singlish crept into his conversations.

"Hurry up, lah," he told Teo Zhen Ren, who had asked Joseph to take a picture of him in the Munhak Park Tae Hwan Aquatics Centre last Friday after the swimming meet ended.

As for the Schooling name, Colin said it originated from the Mecklenburg region in German y and was originally spelt Schilling.

He had traced his lineage back to 1172 and said: "My great-great-grandparents were artisans to the British royal family.

"And after the First World War, due to the anti-German sentiment in England, they changed it to Schooling, the same way Battenberg became Mountbatten."

As for pronunciation, most people say "Schooling" as you would describe someone who is attending school, although some do call them "Shoo-ling".

Said Colin: "It's up to the person who addresses us but we're not too bothered."

Just do not call them ang moh.

Win-lose, all in the family
Sailors display camaraderie as they reel in six medals including two golds
By Chua Siang Yee In Incheon, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2014

THE FIRST thing Singapore sailor Jodie Lai did after being informed that she had won an Asian Games gold medal in the women's Optimist was not to jump hysterically in glee or embark on a hug-marathon.

Instead, the 13-year-old, who was making her Asiad debut, went around her boat to comfort team-mate Raynn Kwok, who was quietly cleaning his boat alone after originally finishing fourth overall and narrowly missing out on a medal in the men's Optimist.

Such camaraderie and unity perfectly captured the spirit that Singapore's sailors displayed yesterday on a sunny afternoon at the Wangsan Sailing Marina.

There were hugs, yells and applause, but amid the celebrating, no one neglected their team-mates, hanging around by the bay and helping each other drag their heavy boats up a 50m ramp from the sea.

Said Jodie, who clinched Singapore's first-ever Optimist gold at the Asiad: "I was trying to encourage Raynn, but I think he tried his best and he won't feel that upset because at least he gave his best."

And while Raynn, 12, was visibly down after his race, he eventually joined Jodie as a medallist, after a successful protest against the race 11 results of Thailand's Suthon Yampinid and Malaysia's Dhiauddin Rozaini.

Both sailors had collided with him during the race when he had the right of way. They were disqualified from race 11, and Raynn finished second overall from 12 races, one point ahead of Yampinid.

Said the St Hilda's Primary School pupil: "This is the happiest I've been in my life.

"I'm happy to have a medal to show for my efforts, and for missing school."

His late silver meant the sailors wrapped up the fleet racing component with two golds, two silvers, and two bronzes.

Joining Jodie as gold medallists are the 420 pair of Kimberly Lim and Savannah Siew.

The pair were inseparable after getting on shore, and understandably so. After all, yesterday was their last time racing together. Each will move on to a different fleet - Lim to the 49er FX, and Siew to the 470 class.

Said Lim: "It's a really good feeling to end off on such a high. We just stuck to our routine, doing what we do best, and that really helped us in this event. This is our last event together... we can't really describe how we feel right now.

"This meant so much."

Added Siew: "We've worked for a really long time together. We just know how each other works. It's an amazing day, and we're very happy it ended well.

The women's 29er pair, sisters Priscilla and Cecilia Low, also clinched a silver, while Colin Cheng (men's Laser) and the men's 420 pair of Jonathan Yeo and Loh Jia Yi contributed two bronzes.

Singapore Sailing Federation president Ben Tan was elated by his sailors' showing in Incheon.

He said: "A lot of effort went into (developing the sailors), from the psychology of sailors, their mental toughness, to how they draw their training cycles and our selection processes. So of course I'm happy with (the result)."

There could yet be another gold medal for the 17-strong sailing team when the J80 match racing semi-finals take place today.

In all, Singapore have four gold, six silvers, and 11 bronzes at the end of yesterday, exceeding their medal count at the last Asiad (four golds, seven silvers, six bronzes).

S’pore’s medal haul — the breakdown
Improvement in Olympic-ratified events means athletes must now focus on bigger targets
By Philip Goh, TODAY, 6 Oct 2014

If Singapore’s sport bigwigs were reluctant to give a medal prediction prior to the 17th Asian Games — and rightly so, considering the difficulty in gauging the quality of opposition that the athletes would face in Incheon — they will undoubtedly be proud, and somewhat relieved, that the nation’s athletes have managed to improve on the medal haul from the 2010 iteration of the Games in Guangzhou.

Returning home with 24 medals — five gold, six silver and 13 bronze — is an improvement on the 17 (4-7-6) from four years ago, with Lim Wei Wen’s bronze in the men’s individual epee a breakthrough for the sport in these quadrennial Games.

Looking at the medal haul, it is important to note that the share of non-Olympic sports in the medal total has shrunk, representing an improvement by Singapore’s athletes in Olympic-ratified events.

The Asian Games have become a springboard for the bigger stages of the world championships and the Olympics, and the continual progress for those Olympic sports must be recognised.

Medals from Joseph Schooling and Tao Li gave Singapore fans something to look forward to in the next two years, as these two classy athletes plot their way to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, at which they will be at their peak and ready to take on the best in the world and expect results.

Sailing’s ever-reliable contribution to the medal tally must now be seen in the context of how many of the sailors will go on to excel in Olympic class boats, the qualification process being convoluted as it is.

Similarly, the impressive Jasmine Ser proved herself to be a big Games athlete, following up her medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with an Asian Games record (women’s individual 50m rifle 3 positions), although she did ultimately miss out on a medal.

After non-Olympic sport had contributed 46 per cent of Singapore’s medal tally in 2010 (six of 17), this time around, the share has gone down to 25 per cent (six of 24).

Team Singapore’s chef de mission Jessie Phua had the pleasing job of delivering a positive report card for the 223 athletes who competed across 20 sports in Incheon.

However, the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) vice-president also called for a shift in the thinking of our athletes, telling them they are completely within their rights to aim higher.

And while many in the sports fraternity spoke of using the 2014 Asiad to prepare for the 28th SEA Games, which will be hosted next June in Singapore, Phua finds it strange “that you go to a bigger Games to get the experience so that you can medal in a lower-level Games”.

“It boils down to mindset. We have athletes who don’t think they can match up to the powerhouses, who do not believe they can be one of the big boys,” she said.

“Don’t say, ‘I come for experience.’ That should be done under the national sports associations’ (NSA) budgets, not under the SNOC banner. You should be able to stand tall after you’ve competed to say, ‘I did not disappoint you, I am indeed in the top six in Asia’.”

And therein lies the challenge for Singapore’s NSAs: To alter the thinking of their respective athletes and look beyond the SEA Games, in effect setting their sights on bigger targets.

The goal of being champions in our own backyard may no longer be enough for a nation with higher aspirations, and a justified hunger for success.

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