Monthly Archives: October 2008

Winds of change starting to blow through the STTA halls

The report:

This report came out in The Straits Times a couple of weeks back. It was about new Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah’s new plans for developing local talents for the national squads.

Citing her desire to see a good mix of local and foreign talent in future national teams as well as to see more locals playing professionally in five to seven years’ time, Lee unveiled a slew of plans as part of the STTA’s preparations for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

These include:

* Coming up with a 22-month training plan for selected paddlers that includes local and overseas training stints and overseas competitions

* Hiring a school teacher as the team manager so that he/she can double up as a maths and science tutor when the youths are training overseas

* Hiring a new national youth team coach in former China national player Xu Xiang Dong and

* Getting former national player Tan Paey Fern to come on board as the new national youth team assistant coach (see report here).

My thoughts:

I’ve always welcomed Lee Bee Wah’s appointment as the new STTA chief, the main reason being my being completely sickened by the state of affairs at the STTA under the previous regime. 

Of course, I had some initial apprehensions too. After all, Lee is a Member of Parliament and a member of the ruling governing party, which made me wonder whether we would see her obediently towing the government line of welcoming foreign talent, calling them essential elements in our quest for excellence and making them the “pillars” of our national table tennis team.

There were, however, whispers from my sources, back in June, before incumbent president Choo stepped down (or made to step down?),  that Lee and her new management team would be ushering in a new era for the STTA and that there would be a greater emphasis on developing young local talent for future national representation.

Ironically, my impression of her also went up a couple of notches when she took national team coach Liu Guodong and team manager Antony Lee to task and blasted them for the way they treated national men’s team member Gao Ning during the Beijing Olympics.

STTA president Lee Bee Wah speaks to newspaper reporters during the Beijing Olympics (Picture taken from The Straits Times)

STTA president Lee Bee Wah speaks to newspaper reporters during the Beijing Olympics (Picture taken from The Straits Times)

Ironic because Gao is just another former Chinese national turned naturalised citizen who was roped into the national team through the Foreign Sports Talents scheme. 

But it was Lee’s reasoning that made me sit up and take notice. As she told The New Paper in the report “Liu to go” (The New Paper, 23 Aug 2008):

“He (Gao) told me that he spent more than 50 per cent of his training time as a sparring partner for the girls. That is not right. If we send the men’s team here, we have to prepare them like how we prepare the girls.”

Lee, as we all know, subsequently took a lot of public flak for her actions.

People called her a publicity-seeker and said that her public reprimanding of Lee and Liu was ill-timed (because it spolit the festive mood of the Singapore women’s team’s silver-medal win at the Olympics) and an attempt to draw attention to herself.

But to me, Lee’s reasons for her actions showed her strong belief in the idea of giving equal treatment to all, that there is no such thing in her books as preferential treatment for a few just for the sake of pursuing sporting glory.

And wonderfully, we now see this principle of equal treatment emerging again in the STTA’s new plans for youth development.

To me, the STTA’s new plans really signal a genuine attempt by Lee and her team to eradicate the bad and suffocating habits of the past and to usher in the winds of change into its training halls. You see the threads of equality running through almost every single one of them.

The winds of change are clearly blowing through the halls of the STTA (picture taken from www.quilted-lizard.com)

The winds of change are clearly blowing through the halls of the STTA (picture taken from http://www.quilted-lizard.com)

For example, the STTA’s 22-month plan for the YOG will not only see local young talents getting more opportunities to train and compete overseas but also includes the plan to get a school teacher to be the team manager of all travelling national youth teams. This is so that the team manager can double up as a maths and science tutor when the young paddlers are training or competing overseas.

In other words, there seems to be a genuine effort by the STTA to invest in our young paddlers and to help them stay the tough and rocky course of developing into future national senior players – instead of just opting for the usual short-cut route of importing foreign-born players into our national training squads.

The move to hire a school teacher as a team manager is an especially significant one because it means that the STTA is also trying to do its bit to help our local young talents to balance their studies with their sports training.

Previous batches of imported foreign table tennis talents never had this problem with academic pressures because they were either young adults when they came here or because they never went to school at all while in Singapore.

Look at Li Jiawei: all she did ever since she came here as a 15-year-old back in 1996 was play table-tennis every day. Which probably explains why there is now such a yearning in her to want to go back to Beijing to study at Peking University

But the most significant move of the lot, for me, is Lee’s successful efforts in persuading former national paddler Tan Paey Fern to become an assistant coach with the national youth squads.

Simply put, it means that the STTA recognises the need to get local role models that our young talents can identify with and be inspired by.

Tan Paey Fern during her competitive days (Picture taken from www.thethaohcm.com.vn)

Tan Paey Fern during her competitive days (Picture taken from http://www.thethaohcm.com.vn)

I seriously think Tan’s presence, her illustrious playing career, and her belief in developing local talent will be a far greater source of inspiration for our young paddlers than a foreign coach or even a Li Jiawei or Feng Tianwei can ever be.

She will be the living example and epitome of how far a local player can go if he/she is determined to work hard and to succeed. 

All the STTA needs now to equal things up is to get another local hero, some one like former four-time national men’s champion Lai Chin Pang (who won a mixed doubles gold with Li Jiawei at the 1997 Commonwealth Championships) or Koh Chin Guan to be an assistant coach and a beacon of inspiration for the boys. 

It’s a very promising start for the STTA under Lee’s charge. I’m now keeping my fingers crossed that we will see the first fruits of the new regime’s labour by the time the YOG comes around.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan 

Related links:

29 August – Singapore table tennis: Time for the new STTA regime to decide what are its values

26 August – Singapore table tennis: some foreign talents are clearly more equal than others.

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Newsflash: Singapore’s Olympic ice-skating dreams destroyed by looming economic crisis?

Singapore’s dreams of producing future Olympic ice-skating champions may have been shattered by the looming economic crunch.

According to the report “Upgrades on hold” in today’s edition of TODAY (22 October 2008), CapitaMall Trust (CMT) has announced that it is shelving expansion plans for three of its malls “due to high construction costs and the competitive environment for resources recently”

Said the report:

CapitaMall Trust Management said CMT had planned to add office space and expand the amount of retail space at Funan DigitaLife Mall (Funan); create 95,000 square feet of office space for Tampines Mall; and create a new retail floor, relocate its cineplex and add an Olympic-sized ice skating rink at Jurong Entertainment Centre (JEC).

 

The manager said that these enhancement plans are not critical to sustain CMT’s growth. The $65.2-million differential premium and stamp duties for Funan have already been paid in June and about $16 million in differential premium has been paid for JEC.

 

However, the decision to shelve the plans to build the Olympic ice-skating rink at the Jurong Entertainment Centre will affect not just Jurong residents and ice-skating enthusiasts.

It also means that the Singapore Ice Skating Association’s recently-obtained membership into the International Skating Union and Asian Skating Union could be terminated as a result.

This, in turn, will be a huge blow to SISA’s dream of producing future world-class ice-skaters because it means that the national body will not be able to send its skaters to compete in ISU-sanctioned events like the Junior Grand Prix, World Championships and the Olympics.

Young talents like Ng Yi Ching will not be able to compete in ISU-sanctioned competitions because of CMT's decision not to build the Olympic-sized rink. Picture courtesy of The Straits Times

Young talents like Ng Yi Ching will not be able to compete in ISU-sanctioned competitions because of CMT's decision to shelve plans to build the Olympic rink (Picture courtesy of The Straits Times)

Only ISU members are allowed to compete in these events, and ISU membership is only granted to a national body on condition that it has an Olympic-sized rink.

For years, Singapore has not been able to get ISU membership as the only ice-skating rink in Singapore was the 20m by 40m arena in Fuji Ice Palace at the Jurong Entertainment Cente.

It then looked like a new dawn had beckoned for SISU in February this year when CMT announced that it would be building an Olympic-sized rink (30m by 60m) to replace the Fuji Ice Palace (see reports here

Encouraged and heartened by the news, SISA then applied for provisional membership into the ISU (see report here). All new ISU members are granted a two-year provisional membership before they get full status, with comes with voiting rights.

For Singapore, full membership is on condition that it has an Olympic-sized rink in place by end-2009.

In September, Singapore’s fledgling ice skaters started to enjoy the benefits of ISU membership when national champion Sarah Paw, 15, became the first Singaporean skater to compete in the Junior Grand Prix Mexico Cup in Mexico City. The US$22,500 event was the third-leg of the eight-stop ISU Junior Grand Prix Series.

Delighted SISA president Sonja Chong said then that Sarah’s participation in the Junior Grand Prix Mexico Cup had caused a huge buzz among its young national trainees.

“Skaters here now see that there’s finally an end in sight. They know that if they train hard, they will be able to go for such events too,” she told the media then. 

Chong had also expressed hope that the new Olympic rink would enable SISA to build double its current base of 500-600 skaters by end-2010.

But all these dreams are on the brink of collapse with CMT’s decision to shelve its plans to build the Olympic-sized rink.

Acocrding to the TODAY report, Mr Brandon Lee, an investment analyst from DMG and Partners Securities was quoted as saying that “the decision was a prudent move on CMT’s part to hold back enhancement plans  and to hold cash, in view of a tighter credit market and high costs in construction.

He also said that some of the proposed expansions, for example the ice skating rink, were not neccessities in current market conditions. 

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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Sailor Joel Pang’s Asian C’ships silver is as good as gold

The report:

As this was a short report, I thought I’d reproduce it in full here instead of making you guys click to my “subsidiary site”, namely singaporesportsfan2.wordpress.com:

Sailors in the medals (TODAY, 14 Oct 2008)

 

By Tan Yo-Hinn

 

THE Asian Sailing Championship 2008 came to an end yesterday in Bali and the Singapore team finished with four silver and five bronze medals.

 

Leading the way was Colin Cheng, the 2006 Laser 4.7 world champion, who won silver in the 12-fleet Laser Standard event. Victoria Chan, the 2006 women’s Laser 4.7 world and European champion, also finished amongst the medals when she took bronze in the Laser Radial event.

 

Singapore’s other medallists were Claris Liow (optimist girls, silver), Sean Lee and Joel Pang (boys’ 470, silver), Ryan Lo (optimist boys, bronze), Shane Ong (laser standard, bronze), Jovina Choo and Sara Tan (girls’ 470, bronze), and Paul Seet and Aaron Pan (boys’ 420, bronze).

 

Singapore’s 28-strong squad, made up mostly of national developmental squad sailors, joined 130 sailors from nine countries for the week-long event in Bali.

My thoughts:

I nearly missed this report as it was tucked away in the bottom right corner of the sports pages of TODAY (14 Oct 2008). Thank goodness, I didn’t.

For in the midst of the public furore generated by

a) the announcement of Li Jiawei’s engagement to a Beijing businessman who shares the same surname

b) national table tennis chief coach Liu Guodong’s snub of the new contract that the Singapore Table Tennis Association has offered him, and

c) the possibility that his protege, Feng Tian Wei, may now follow him out of Singapore,

national sailor Joel Pang’s capture of an Asian Championships silver medal in the men’s 470 with Sean Lee came as sweet relief to me – and another affirmation of my faith in our own local sporting talents.

Why did Joel Pang’s silver give me much joy in particular when Singapore won four silvers in total at the Asian meet?

Well, let me tell you a story about Joel and how he ended up in sailing in the first place.

When Joel joined the Singapore Sports School in 2004 as a member of its pioneer batch of 138 students, the Secondary Two student came on board not as a sailor but as a track-and-field trainee.

He was a distance-runner with Whitney Secondary School before switching to the Sports School. Unfortunately, far from realising his dreams of becoming a top junior athlete, Joel found himself suffering a nightmarish three years at the School instead.

One of the top runners at Whitley, Joel soon found himself at the back of the pack at the Sports School. Reality dealt the young man a hard blow: he realised that there were runners at the Sports School who were far better than he was. And no matter how hard he trained, he was not able to keep up with them.  

To make matters worse, over the next two years, Joel also found his juniors gradually catching up and overtaking him. And while his peers were winning medals easily at national schools competitions and international meets, he was coming back from them empty-handed.

Now, just imagine how demoralising it must have been for the young lad, especially in such an intense environment as that of the Sports School.

Even though he was well-liked by the teachers and highly respected among his peers (he was even a student council leader), all these achievements outside of sport did little to lift his spirits.

Because that’s the thing about the Sports School: despite its efforts to provide a good all-rounded education for its student athletes, at the end of the day, one’s sense of identity and self-worth is largely based on one’s achievements on the sporting stage.

So you can just imagine how low Joel must have been feeling with each passing year.

And because of his inability to improve and compete, it also meant that he was watching on with envy while his Track and Field Academy mates were getting selected for international competitions, and winning medals overseas.

It reached a stage when he even contemplated leaving the school and quitting athletics altogether.

Thank goodness then that Koh Aik Beng, the School’s Sailing Academy general manager, took a good look at  Joel – and felt that he had the physique and brains to become a decent sailor.

That was around the tail-end of 2006.

At that time, pint-sized Sean Lee was coming to the end of his glittering career as an Optimist sailor and was going to move into the Men’s 470 class. As a helmsman, Sean would need a strong partner as his crew.

Koh felt Joel would make a good crew – and tried persuading the young man to make the switch to sailing instead of quitting the School. However, he did warn Joel that the learning curve would be a really steep one and that he would have to put in a lot of extra effort to reach a standard of sailing that would enable him to partner Sean.

Apprehensive at first, Joel finally decided to give sailing a go.

I think for the first six months, he must have been wondering what he got himself into as he struggled on the water.

But he perservered and worked hard at his new sport, and as you can see, it’s all turned out good in the end. He’s now a member of Singapore Sailing’s High Performance National Training Squads, and from the looks of it, he and Sean Lee have finally gelled as a partnership.

I’ve been tracking Sean and Joel’s progress over the past two years and if I am not mistaken, this Asian Sailing Championships silver is probably the highest international achievement for the duo in the 470 so far. 

It’s probably the first – or one of the first – sports medals that Joel has ever won.

More importantly, this win is going to give him a huge confidence boost in his sailing abilities.

That’s why I feel that the silver is as good as gold for Joel. The young man truly deserves a gold medal for his perserverance in athletics even when his morale was rock-bottom, for his courage to try out a new sport, and for his determination to succeed in sailing.

I also feel that Singapore Sailing deserves a gold medal for proving, through Joel, that one doesn not need to take the foreign sports talent path to succeed on the international stage. Through its grooming and development of Joel, the NSA has shown that good sporting talent can be found among the locals, if one is willing to try hard enough to spot them and be patient enough to invest enough time and resources on them.

I hope this Asian Championships silver marks the start of an exciting and successful partnership between the two young men and I would really love to see Sean and Joel compete in the Asian Games and the Olympics one day.

Take a bow, Joel.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan 

P/S: I’ll try to secure an email interview with Joel Pang soon and put it up here.

Related links:

23 June – Wanted: a 20 per cent cap on FSTs and a reality check for some NSAs

26 June 2008: Singapore Boleh, Local Talent Boleh

27 June 2008 – Low Teo Ping – the last action hero of Singapore sports

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