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.
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.