April 02, 2005


Yesterday (Friday the 1st) I attended the launch of Singapore Olympians: The Complete Who's Who 1936-2004 and it was a fantastic event. I was very privileged to rub shoulders with some of the greatest sporting heroes this country has ever produced. It was also thrilling to say hello to many of my old friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in many years.

After I received my complimentary copy of the book, I ran around eagerly trying to get as many of them to sign it for me as possible. I felt more like a fan, actually, than one of the honoured. I don't know how others see me, but I never felt like I was one of Singapore's great heroes. In 1996 I was the best butterflier in Singapore, and I held two national open records, but unlike many of the other athletes I was extremely fortunate to have my family to support me and ease my progress. I never had to fight my way up from poverty to represent the country, nor did I have to overcome major obstacles apart from my competitors. I didn't even have the sustained success that many others had; my heyday was a short three year stretch between 1995 and 1997 and after that I moved over to make way for a younger and better generation. In essence, really, when I think about myself and my competitive career: it was good, and it was more than I ever dreamed of, but it wasn't inspired. Literally, inspiration means the breath of God, and while there are many examples in the book of careers and athletes who had that, I by comparison was just lucky.

The inspiration from these athletes, though, should serve to inspire a new generation of Singaporean sporting excellence. Singaporeans need heroes and role models, and as was pointed out by one of the book's authors, many young Singaporeans know about Beckham and Owen, even Pele and Maradona, but they know little about our own giants of sport, colossi who bestrode the world in their own times and in their own way.

If there is a central message to the book and to my swim, it's a reminder to us all that anyone, anywhere can do great things. We can help ourselves remember that by looking at all the great, inspired sporting heroes who came from our humble island and who went on to experience the heights of their sport. They did it; so can you.

"To P.J.- the new mission is Olympism!" wrote C. Kunalan in my book. Indeed it is. Let us spread the ideals of Olympism and promote the values inherent in it. Remember: it doesn't matter where you are from, or who you are, or what you do. If you believe, as I did, you too can breathe the breath of God.

Posted by pj at April 2, 2005 07:07 PM