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Tang Pui Wah: Golden Girl of Athletics

14 October, 2014   Audrey Kang

Tang Pui Wah

 Mdm Tang was Singapore's first female Olympian at the Helsinski Olympic Games at the tender age of 19 (photo by Sport SG).


Despite eventually spending only a short seven years in competitive sports, the now 81-year old woman is considered a pioneering female athlete in the local sports scene.

“I never thought about where my limit was, I pushed myself very hard and tried to improve myself. (I’ll) practise, and try to improve with every practice,” she said in Mandarin.

Madam Tang represented Singapore as our first female Olympian during the Helsinki Olympic games when she was 19-years old, becoming known to her home country as the “Helsinki Girl”. She was easily one of the most famous athletes in the 1950s, due to noteworthy performances in all her races.

Madam Tang was also named the ‘Best Female Chinese Athlete’ during the 1951 Malayan Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) sports meet, after she won gold in three different categories – the 100-yard, 220-yard and the 80-meter hurdles.

Although she has a plethora of sporting achievements under her belt, Madam Tang said that her performance at the MAAA was her proudest moment. “I managed to improve my timing in each category, and I was extremely satisfied at my performance. Until this day, it is still the performance that I am most proud of.”

“I’m very lucky, things were easier in the past. Life was simple, we didn’t have as much stress as the teenagers today have,” she said, “I was lucky in a sense that I didn’t have to worry about things at home, so I could focus on studying and training.”

Friends and family were also very supportive of her, and Madam Tang credited her accomplishments in part to the encouragement she received from people around her.

To her, however, sporting standards have increased drastically over the past few decades. She pointed out that in addition to higher standards, young athletes these days have more pressure to do well in school, and many of them are unable to strike a balance between training and studying.

“There wasn’t so many recreational activities available to us back then. We didn’t have television… All we (athletes) could do was to concentrate on running, on improving our timing,” she said.

Time management is one of the most important things she would advise young athletes to master. She also believes athletes should be constantly aware of the performances of their rivals, as these change at a faster rate now compared to the past.

“Continue working hard. Even if you are doing very well and your timing is amazing, other people are also improving,” she said.

Unlike other athletes with long years of competitive sporting experience to their name, Madam Tang chose to retire from sports after seven years, at the age of 22.

“I decided that it was time to move on and do something different in my life. I love running, but I thought that I had already dedicated a full seven years of my life doing nothing but sports, and it was sufficient for me. I put my heart and soul into it for those years, and at that point I wanted to explore different things,” she said.

Despite her early departure from the sporting world, Madam Tang confessed that she still misses the sport a lot. She said that she watches every edition of the Olympic Games, as well as the South-East Asian (SEA) games.

“Every one (of the games), I watch!” she said, “watching the athletes in action in the games these days made me realise that there was so much room for improvement for me in the past.”

She said that no matter what, people should always seek new ways to improve themselves. Even though Madam Tang has long left her days of sprinting behind, her love for the sport remains apparent.