What a great weekend for Singapore sport!

I usually hate Mondays because it marks the start of another long week at work. I’m sure many of you know the feeling.

But today, I went into the office with a grin and a heart quietly beating with pride, all thanks to The Straits Times and TODAY, or rather, all thanks to the reports that they carried of our athletes in action on the international stage over the weekend.

I really cannot remember the last time I read so many reports in a single edition of the two newspapers about the exploits of our sportsmen in four different sports. There was:

– the report of our junior sailors narrowly missing out on a gold at the World Optimist Championships by just three points

a report on Jasmine Yeong-Nathan snaring a bronze in the girls singles at the World Youth Bowling Championships;

a story about Fandi Ahmad’s eldest two sons, Irfan and Iksan, capturing the attention of the youth coaches at Spanish club Valencia during a training stint and winning invites to train with the La Liga side’s academy, and finally,

– the report of Lam Chih Beng creating local sporting history by becoming the first Singapore golfer to make the cut for the British Open.

My heartiest congratulations to Singapore Sailing and the Singapore Bowling Federation for once again proving to everyone out there that our locally-born athletes have what it takes to excel on the world stage.

By their successes, they have shown once again that the argument put forth by some national sports associations that we must have foreign sports talents in order to do well internationally (because our local athletes are just not good enough) is nothing but sheer deception.  

As I have mentioned before, both Singapore Sailing and the SBF have shown that our local sportsmen can deliver the goods so long as they are given the opportunities and resources to develop themselves into top-class athletes.

And what all that, in turn, really needs is an unwavering belief in local talent, in one’s fellow Singaporeans, and the iron will to erect systematic training structures that will enable them to progressively climb the ladder to success.

In fact, the other sailing report on our Singapore sailors finishing fourth at the World Youth Championships, which appeared in The Sunday Times (20 July 2008), when placed side-by-side with that of our silver-medal winning Optimist sailors, provides ample proof of this progression.

Thanks to the talent development systems that Singapore Sailing has built over the years, the likes of Low Wen Chun, Jonathan Chew, Griselda Khng, Cecilia Low and Elizabeth Yin, all good Optimist sailors previously, are now rated among the top 10 sailors in the world in their respective classes.

On the other hand, while Lam Chih Beng’s “mini trumph” at the British Open cannot be used to illustrate the above two points, it nevertheless still drives home the fact that our local athletes do have what it takes to compete on the world stage.

Sure, Lam finished last in the end ( he finished with a 31-over-par total of 311). But honestly, that statistic is nothing to be embarrassed about. As The Straits Times rightfully reported:

“Despite those blemishes on his scorecard, Lam can take heart from a historic achievement. He became the first Singaporean to make the cut in a Major after carding rounds of 72 and 75 on Thursday and Friday. He was also the only South-east Asian player in the field to survive the axe…”

But what I was most sruck by were Lam’s quotes after his British Open adventure.

“For two days, I felt like I really belonged out here,” he said. “I felt like I could compete with the world’s best players… I’m going back and I hope to win an Asian Tour tournament over the next few months. If I can get through this, oher events won’t be that tough.” 

In other words, being given the precious opportunity to compete against the best, and grabbing that opportunity with both hands has enabled Lam to emerge from the experience a tougher, wiser and better golfer. Clearly, his mental game has been given a huge boost with this experience.

Now just imagine how possibly different the state of Singapore badminton and table tennis might be today if, in the past decade, instead of foreign-born sports talents, it was our local-born badminton and table-tennis players instead, who had been given the same sort of opportunities to constantly pit and measure themselves against the best in the world.

Finally, tempting as it may be, I’m not letting myself read too much into the report about how Fandi Ahmad’s sons are wowing the youth coaches and selectors at Valencia.

The kids are doing great now, judging from the glowing report, but then again, the situation may change as they grow older and their bodies change.

And I’m sure they are where they are now, not only because of their genes but also the windows of footballing opportunities that they have easy access to because of their father (ie coaching clinics, stints with S-League clubs, one-on-one coaching sessions with Dad etc).

Once again, here are two examples of how far local talent can go if given the ample opportunities to be developed and groomed.  

Even though I am not letting myself be carried away by the reports, still, it’s nice to dream, isn’t it, that perhaps one day we can see Fandi’s sons not only following their father’s famous footsteps, donning the national jersey, and playing in Europe (and even going further than their father ever did)?

Shouldn’t ALL our local-born athletes be given the chance to dream too?

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

26 June: Singapore boleh, local talent boleh!

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