It’s time for Singapore to give the Olympians an extra boost
TOKYO – It should now be clear that Joseph Schooling’s monumental swimming gold medal five years ago was more of a glorious one-off, and less the culmination of a systematic plan for Olympic medal success.
Singapore’s first and only Olympic gold medal was won in Rio de Janeiro thanks to a combination of Schooling’s lifelong ambition, exceptional mental toughness and a long line of shrewd decisions from him and from his parents – with the help of the Singapore sports community – to ensure he got the right environment and the right coaching to ultimately succeed.
This is the demand that the sport’s biggest scene demands of a budding athlete – to win an Olympic medal, it takes a top notch support system to provide that extra edge over other competitors, whether in the inner circle of an athlete or through institutional support.
And with 17 debutants among the 23 athletes of the Singapore squad at these Games – proof that more Singaporeans are daring to dream of the Olympic dream – is it time for Singapore to start giving these athletes an extra boost in their quest for medals?
Don’t just applaud the athletes for qualification
The often-cited cliché for the Olympics is: “Getting to the Olympics is already a great achievement. Everyone who makes it is already a winner.”
It is undeniable that qualifying for the Olympics requires almost superhuman effort, honed by years of constant and grueling training. There is no way for a casual part-time athlete to be successful; most of the Singapore team’s athletes have suspended their studies or their careers to win their Olympic places.
So yes, they should be applauded for their qualifications.
The point is, every time Singapore sends its athletes to the Olympics, the sporting community seems to just pat athletes on the back, praise them for doing it – and do nothing more to push them for some success. outstanding results at the games.
Journalists are fed the usual lines of “we don’t set a medal goal, we just hope they can give their best” from sports officials all the time. And while the clear intention of not setting a medal goal is not to put unnecessary mental pressure on Olympic athletes, it can also engender a sense of self-righteousness that works against motivated athletes. achieve their personal bests at the Games.
Push for personal bests at the Games
Should more emphasis be placed on performance indicators such as “personal bests” if athletes are unlikely to win medals?
For some fans, that should be the minimum expectation for every Singapore athlete at the Olympics, but it’s a bit too harsh. Surpassing your best result in a foreign environment is always tricky, especially if the playing field is made up of top-notch opponents.
That said, while most of the 23 Singaporean athletes failed to reach their personal bests in Tokyo – you can safely say that only paddler Yu Mengyu and sailors Kimberly Lim and Cecilia Low had their best performances – so maybe rethinking is needed on how to give them the best opportunities to do so.
And there is no need to insist on a goal of medals to be achieved by the athletes. What Singaporean sports need to do is stop praising them too soon and instead provide them with as good a preparation as possible to give them a good chance of success.
Emulate the benchmark for school success
The point is, the school set a benchmark for Olympic success. There was a gradual build-up to its peak in Rio – one Commonwealth Games silver medal and Asian Games gold medal in 2014, nine SEA Games gold medals in 2015, and then an Asian record race time and a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships.
In the months leading up to the Rio Games, he was always looking for that extra edge – like blowing up for more punch – to cut his race times into fractions. By the time he started his gold-winning swim in Rio, he was confident and ready to push his limits again.
Singapore’s sports associations need to raise their games to this benchmark, so that Schooling’s feat is not one-off. Take away the mentality that qualifying is enough and start working years in advance to adequately prepare Singapore athletes for the cutthroat competition of the Olympics.
Meanwhile, Sport Singapore and the Singapore National Olympic Council should help ensure that these up-and-coming athletes get the greatest possible peace of mind in their studies and careers. Scholarships and financial grants should be an integral part of the support system.
Do not rest on the laurels of the medalists
Singapore Sports Institute Chief Toh Boon Yi acknowledged that there are always things Singapore can do better to support athletes, such as in medical treatment and sports science.
“Can we provide more intimate medical support? We can never say no, but it’s a question of cost versus effectiveness for sports associations, ”he said at an online press conference on Saturday (August 7), reviewing the performance of Singaporean athletes in Tokyo. .
“At this point, we don’t think there is a big ‘red flag’ where there hasn’t been adequate support. But there is always more we can do better.”
Indeed, it is right that Singapore does not rest on the laurels of Schooling and expect it alone to be the eternal hope for a medal. Every athlete – schooling included – hopes that individual or team success at the highest level can inspire others to similar heights.
The Tokyo Olympics are the first time since the Athens 2004 Games that Singapore cannot win a medal. And while all of Singapore’s athletes have been doing their best amid all the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that many have not been able to reach their peaks means that something needs to be done to put them on the road to personal bests.
Let’s not just lip-service the athletes who go to the Olympics. Otherwise, we would depreciate Schooling’s gold.
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