Tokyo Olympics: Singapore athletes lauded for resilience, but swimmers "not up to expectations"

·3-min read
Singapore rower Joan Poh competing in the women's single sculls event ar the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Singapore rower Joan Poh competing in the women's single sculls event ar the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (PHOTO: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Reporting from Tokyo

TOKYO — Despite the disappointment of not winning any medals at the Tokyo Olympics - the first time this has happened since the 2004 Athens Games - chef de mission Dr Benedict Tan insisted that the Team Singapore athletes have delivered resilient performances under the unusual circumstances of a postponed Games held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his review of the athletes' performances on Saturday (7 August), Tan said that many of them had to cope with living in limbo as qualification events were postponed, training plans disrupted and life plans shelved temporarily. However, they still persevered to earn a spot to at the top sporting competition in the world.

"For instance, rower Joan Poh had very limited resources; her coach was a volunteer who had to coach her online. And then she had to put her plans on hold to return to her job as a nurse when hospitals faced a shortage of healthcare workers. This just shows her tenacity in qualifying for the Olympics," he said during an online media conference.

“In sports, disappointment is inevitable – that is the nature of competition. We have all personally faced disappointments in our own lives. I believe our Olympians will, in time to come, show us how champions deal with disappointments."

Swimmers did not meet expectations

Despite praising the Singapore athletes' tenacity and resiliences to qualify for the Olympics amid COVID-19, Singapore Sport Institute chief Toh Boon Yi singled out the results of the three swimmers - Joseph Schooling, Quah Ting Wen and Quah Zheng Wen - as "not up to our expectations".

Schooling, who was defending his men's 100m butterfly gold, had exited after coming in last in his heats. The Quah siblings also could not make the semi-final cuts for all of their events.

"The swimmers have acknowledged that they need to go back and review what could have been done better," Toh said during the online media conference.

"We are working with all the people at the Singapore Swimming Association to see if we can address the issues and problems. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding, and the swimmers had only one or two minutes to deliver at each Olympics. We have to go back to the drawing board on this."

Athletes in record number of sports

The Tokyo Olympics saw 23 Singapore athletes competing in a record 12 different sports, with 17 of them making their debuts at the Games. 

Four of them - Chantal Liew (marathon swimming), Caroline Chew (equestrian), Freida Lim and Jonathan Chan (diving) - became the first Singaporeans from their respective sports to compete on the Olympic stage.

Both Tan and Toh said that this shows that more national sports associations are putting systems in place whereby they can make progressions from sending athletes for the Games to improving the results in each Olympic cycle.

"What we don't want is for the associations to take one step forward, then two steps back," Tan said. "We certainly hope that this year's Olympians can contribute their Games experiences, understand what needs to be done to step up another level, and then work towards that goal."

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