Twenty four medals – five of them Gold – that is Team Singapore’s final count from the 2014 Asian Games. But the experiences gained by Singaporean sportsmen and women in Incheon cannot be measured purely by the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals that they brought home.
Across the sports, Singaporean athletes stuck to their pre-competition vow to give their all, and whether it was the Gold medal winners or those who gained their valuable first experience at a major competition, Team Singapore’s competitors were united by their commitment, professionalism, determination and adherence to the Olympian values that underpin the Asian Games.
For those who look to the medal count for signs of progress in the Republic’s sport, the results were impressive. In Guangzhou in 2010, Singapore left with 17 medals, four of them Gold. This year’s 24 medals included five Golds, six Silvers and 13 Bronzes.
While Singapore’s successes came in several sports, there is certainly something about water that brings out the best in the island’s athletes.
Team Singapore’s Schooling Joseph Isaac poses after winning gold medal at Men's 100m Butterfly Final (Photo by Jaewon Lee / Sport Singapore)
Swimmer Joseph Schooling had already announced his presence on the global stage by delivering the country’s first ever swimming medal at the Commonwealth Games – a silver in the 100 meter butterfly in Glasgow, and that raised expectations for the 19-year-old.
Schooling came through once more – and in some style. The butterfly specialist won Gold in the 100m Butterfly, Silver in 50m Butterfly, Bronze in the 200m Butterfly, and the powerful image of his delighted celebrations was shown around the world.
With the Rio Olympics just two years away, Schooling has a chance to write another chapter in Singapore’s sporting history, as his Spanish-born coach Sergio Lopez, who has handed his protégé over to the coaching team at the University of Texas, put it: “He can go as far as he wants to. I think at this level it is not so much about talent but about how much you want to become the best. Now it is time to grind and train hard and decide that ‘I want to win’. “
At a different stage of her career compared to Schooling, but still among the continent’s swimming elite, the 24-year-old Tao Li continued to impress with a Silver (Women's 50m Butterfly) and Bronze (100m Butterfly) at the Munhak Aquatics Center.
Team Singapore’s Lai Xuan Yi Jodie (C), Lim Min Kimberly (L) and Siew Kiah Hui Savannah show their gold medals after medal ceremony (Photo by Jaewon Lee / Sport Singapore)
Three of Singapore’s other gold medals came on the water with the Republic’s flexing its muscles in sailing again.
Jodie Lai Xuan Yi clinched Gold in the Optimist class, along with Kimberly Lim and Savannah Siew who won the Women's 420 competition. The Silver medals came from the 29er Women's Two Person Dinghy, and Raynn Kwok in the Optimist Men's One Person Dinghy competition. The two Bronze medals came from the Men’s team - Colin Cheng secured his in the Laser while the 420 pairing of Loh Jia Yi and Jonathan Yeo also finished third.
The third sailing Gold came from the J80 match racing team, skippered by Maximilian Soh and with a crew of Andrew Paul Chan, Russell Kan, Christopher Lim and Justin Wong, who confidently defeated a strong South Korean team in the Gold medal match.
The future looks bright for Singaporean sailing and it is worth remembering that Lai is just 13 years of age, while Kwok just 12, meaning the Republic has produced two medal winners born in this millennium.
“The results show how much depth and breadth our system has. We were up against big countries like China, Japan and Korea, yet Singapore has managed to hold our ground against those big boys,” said Singapore Sailing Federation President Ben Tan.
Team The Women's Team of five with their gold medals (Photo by Sport Singapore)
Bowling is a well-established part of Singapore’s sports scene and it was at the lanes of the Anyang Hogye Gymnasium where the country’s other Gold medal celebrations took place.
The Women’s Team of Five - Cherie Tan, Daphne Tan, Shayna Ng, New Hui Fen and Jazreel Tan - bowled a total of 6,119 pinfalls to hold off hosts South Korea and get their hands on Gold.
The Women’s Trios team also claimed Silver when the Jazreel, Cherie and New finishing between two South Korean trios. Jazreel had also won a Silver in the women’s singles and a Bronze in the Women’s All Round event.
But perhaps the most enduring image of Singapore’s Asian Games was of fencer Lim Wei Wen beaming after winning a Bronze in the Men’s Individual Epee – Singapore’s first ever podium finish for fencing at the Asian Games.
Lim’s warm words and genuine joy captured the spirit of the Singaporean team in Korea and his post-victory comments were typical of the team as a whole.
“I didn’t come into this competition with expectations,” said Lim, “I just wanted to go all out. I simply trust what my coach and teammates have worked on in Singapore. It worked,” he added.
Over at the Ongnyeon International Shooting Range, Gai Bin won the Bronze medal in the 25m Men's Center Fire Pistol competition – the first time a Singaporean male has won a medal in an individual pistol event at the Asiad. Gai Bin also won Bronze as part of the Men's 25m Standard Pistol team competition along with teammates Poh Lip Meng and Lim Swee Hon. That Bronze was the first ever Asian Games medal for a Singapore men’s team in a pistol event.
Team Singapore Sepak Takraw team also played a part in the medal haul, winning a Bronze in the Men's Doubles event.
Team Singapore's Gao Ning (L) and Li Hu (R) pose with Jessie Phua, Chef de Mission of Singapore National Olympic Committee after Men's Doubles Semifinal Match 1 against China (Photo by Jaewon Lee / Sport Singapore)
In table tennis, paddlers Gao Ning and Li Hu clinched bronze in the Men's Doubles and the women’s team of Feng Tianwei, Lin Ye, Zhou Yihan, Isabelle Li and Yu Mengyu also grabbed third place. On the final day of the Asiad, Feng clinched another Bronze following her defeat to Zhu Yuling in the Women’s Singles semifinal.
Said Chef de Mission Mrs Jessie Phua, “Incheon has played the role of a superb host to Team Singapore over the last three weeks. The support we have received from the organisers, from the medical team to the liaison officers to the volunteers and staff members behind the transportation, games operations and athletes’ village functions, has been crucial to Team Singapore’s performance. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the city and people of Incheon for a wonderful Games.
“Overall, Team Singapore has performed to expectations and surprised us with many breakthrough performances and records. Two Games records, three national records and 13 personal bests were set.”
She added: “We have 223 athletes, 158 debutants, and 19 of them medalled. From a statistical point of view, that’s awesome. And of this bunch, 84 were 21 and under, of which 80 were debutants and 11 bemedalled. If numbers is what you’re looking for, I think it’s a really awesome performance from such a young team.”