28 February 2019
National Library Singapore
A RIDE BACK IN TIME: OUR FIRST ASIAN GOLD MEDALLIST
Swimmer Neo Chwee Kok, nicknamed the “Flying Fish” and “Boy Marvel”, was born in Singapore but raised on the Indonesian island of Pulau Samboe. Neo started competitive swimming in 1949 at 18. Two years later, his hard work paid off when he clinched four gold medals in three individual freestyle swimming events (400 m, 800 m, 1,500 m) and one team event (4 × 100-metre relay) at the inaugural Asian Games held in New Delhi, India, from 4 to 11 March 1951.
Neo won his first gold medal on 5 March 1951, beating seven other competitors in the 1,500-metre freestyle event with a time of 21 min 43.6s. He also bettered the Singapore and Indian records by 20s.
Neo Chwee Kok at the medal ceremony in New Dehli,India (First Asian Games)
Picture Credits:Singapore Sports Council
In the 4 × 100-metre freestyle relay on 7 March 1951, Neo swam the fastest 100 m in the games with a record time of 61.7 s. His teammates, Wiebe Wolters, Lionel Chee and Barry Mitchell, clocked at 64.5 s, 67.9 s and 65.7 s respectively. The Singapore quartet beat the second-placed Philippines team by three yards (2.7 m), finishing in a total time of 4 min 19.8 s.
The same day, Neo turned in another power-packed performance in the 800-metre freestyle race, pulling 35 m ahead of the runner-up in a time of 11 min 2.2 s for his second individual gold medal.
On 8 March 1951, Neo gave another electrifying performance in the 400-metre freestyle event, leading the race from its start and finishing 20 yards (18.28 m) ahead of his closest competitor, Mohamed Mala from the Philippines. Neo claimed victory – and his fourth gold medal – with a time of 5 min 13.8 s, breaking his own previously held Singapore record of 5 min 18.6 s.
Together with Chee (backstroke) and Tan Wee Hock (breaststroke), Neo (freestyle) participated in the 3 × 100-metre medley relay held the same day. The team came in second with a total time of 3 min 8 s, just 3 s slower than the winning team.
Neo was ranked third on the December 1999 list of Singapore’s greatest athletes and was also inducted into the Singapore Sports Council’s Hall of Fame for his quadruple gold-medal feat at the 1951 Asian Games.
Neo passed away on 23 January 1987.