So here goes:
Quote/s of the Year: Liu Guo Dong
Here’s national table tennis coach Liu Guodong pledging his future to Singapore and expressing his gratitude to the Republic in the aftermath of the Gao Ning fiasco at the Beijing Olympics:
“I have been working in Singapore for two years and eight months, and in my time here my affinity for the country has deepened. I came from China and Singapore gave me the platform whereby I could help the table tennis team to a silver medal, and for that I am truly grateful to Singapore.” (The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2008)
Here’s Liu’s reaction two months later after he subsequently rejected his new contract from the Singapore Table Tennis Association:
“It’s about recognition and respect for the contributions I have made to Singapore. I have helped to win an Olympic medal for the country, and they can’t even match my salary to that of a consultant.
“They told me to take it or leave it. I refuse to be bullied by this kind of attitude any more. What they have put on the table is simply insulting and insincere. They are forcing me to leave.” (The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2008)
Hmm, wait a minute, Liu.
What was that you said again about being grateful to Singapore for giving you the platform to make a name for yourself as a coach?
Most under-reported development in local sports: Choo Wee Khiang’s stepping down as Singapore Table Tennis Association president before the Beijing Olympics
This was probably one of the most significant developments in the local sports scene last year, yet one of the most under-reported.
I guess it’s probably because the media was not able to do so beyond a certain point.
Although Choo has been lauded by Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a press conference as the man who planted the seeds for Singapore’s Olympic success in table tennis, the fact remains that the man, strangely, gave up the presidency of the Singapore Table Tennis Association in July.
That’s one month before the Beijing Olympics, which eventually saw the women’s national team winning the team silver, and Singapore’s first Olympic medal in 48 years.
I don’t understand – why did Choo step down a month before the Olympics?
And if it was because of the coincidental timing of the NSA’s elections, why couldn’t the local sporting authorities – already quietly confident that the women’s team could win the Olympic silver after winning silver at the World Championships in February – decide to move the elections to after the Olympics, thereby allowing Choo to step down at the height of his success?
Because of the timing of Choo’s exit, his relinquishment of the presidency really took on an ignominous tone, and left many questions unanswered.
For example, why did Choo step down? Was he ‘asked’ to do so?
If so, why? Was it because the local sporting authorities were unhappy with the way he had used the Foreign Talent Scheme over the years to produce a women’s national team that was second only to China?
Or were they unhappy with how things were being run at the STTA?
Dr Balakrishnan didn’t answer this directly during the above-mentioned press conference in August. Instead,
…In response to a journalist’s suggestion that current president Lee Bee Wah was brought in last month to ‘clean up the house’, Minister for Commuity Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said:
“I must say I am very uncomfortable with that line of questioning because I want to say there’s one more person we need to acknowledge, and that’s Mr Choo.
“He has dedicated many, many years of his life to table tennis. In a sense we are harvesting the seeds which he planted.” (from The Straits Times, ‘Minister praises past president’s role’, 30 August 2008)
Sometimes, what is left unsaid can really speak volumes.
Dumbest move by an NSA: The re-hiring of Zheng Qingjin by the SBA
I was really angry with the Singapore Badminton Association for two reasons:
a) For re-hiring Zheng as its technical director, a key position, even though Zheng had previously used that position of authority to solicit bribes from the national coaches in return for his recommendation that their contracts be extended.
b) For opting to keep mum about who were the other possible candidates that they had considered for the technical director post, and instead stating that Zheng was the best person for the job.
Where is the transparency in all this?
At the end of the day, the SBA is an organisation that depends on public funding to exist. And yet, here it is using public funds to hire someone, who, because of the way he previously abused his position for his own benefit, really has no moral authority left.
The public really deserves an answer for this fiasco. Sadly, the SBA is being allowed to get away without giving a proper one.
Most under-reported achievement by a national team:
I was really surprised that the national rugby team’s first-ever promotion to the top tier of Asian rugby ended up being so under-reported.
As a reward for winning the first division competition of the Asian Rugby Championships, the Singapore Reds will now get to play against powerhouses Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Kazakhstan in this year’s Asian Five Nations Competition.
Yet the team’s achievement, which must surely rank as highly as – if not higher than – its third-place finish at the 1978 ARFU, merited just a small and poorly-written article in The Straits Times. TODAY didn’t even do a report on the achievement.
In fact, The Straits Times report was so lacking in details that it prompted me to do my own research on the net to come up with a more comprehensive report for the benefit of my readers. You can read it here.
And you know something? It didn’t take me long to compile the report. All the relevant information and results were readily available on the net.
Come on, guys. Our national rugby players clinched the golden ticket to play in this year’s Asian Five Nations, which means that Singapore sports fans will be able to watch them in action on television for the first time.
Surely the Reds deserved far better treatment than that?
Athlete to watch in 2009: T. Piriyah (400m hurdles)
I am betting that 400m sprinter and hurdler T. Piriyah will shatter the national women’s 400m hurdles record in style next year.
The 16-year-old Singapore Sports School student, coached by Georgian Viatcheslav Vassiliev, has been in phenomenal form this year as she chalked up four personal bests in the event this year.
During the National Schools Track and Field Championships in July, Piriyah smashed the Girls B Division record twice en route to winning the crown.
She clocked a new mark of 66.05sec in the heat and then proceeded to lop off almost three seconds off that record with her 63.86sec effort in the final.
Almost five months later, Piriyah did it again. This time, it was at the Pacific School Games in Canberra, Australia.
She clocked a new personal best of 63.40sec in the heats of the 400m hurdles (Girls 16years and below) before surpassing that with her 63.11sec run in the final which landed her the bronze medal.
It will only be a matter of time before Piriyah shatters Noshidah Ali’s 1984 national open and junior record of 62.8sec.
Student Athlete of the Year: Scott Wong (Discus and Shot Put)
For sheer consistency and phenomenal form, schoolboy thrower Scott Wong is my Student Athlete of 2008.
Scott was simply amazing this year, setting an amazing NINE (yes, you read it correctly) records in the discus and shot put. (You can read the report here.)
The 18-year-old Hwa Chong Institution student, who has been hailed by the local athletics fraternity as the next James Wong, got his year off to a great start when he broke the national junior record for the shot put (6kg) in March. He hurled 14.88m to break Chia Chang Yi’s 2004 record of 14.27m.
A month later, Scott collected his second national junior mark of the year when he threw 49.60m to break James Wong’s record of 47.98m which had remained unsurpassed since 1987.
Scott then set two championship marks at the Singapore Junior Athletics Championships in June.
His distance of 48m in the Boys U-20 Discus (1.75kg) shattered Huang Wei Jie’s two-year record of 39.17m. He also erased Chia Chang Yi’s name from the record books a second time when he threw 14.70m in the Boys’ U-20 shot put (6kg). Prior to this, Chia had held the championship record of 14.27m.
The following month saw Scott setting three records at the National Schools Track and Field Championships. He blitzted his opponents to set new records in the Boys A Division shot put and discus. In fact, the shot put record was also a new National Schools mark.
The burly lad then ended his season in style by netting two golds at the Asean Schools Track and Field Championships in Da Nang, Vietnam, in July. In fact, his wins in the discus and shot put were the only golds won by Singapore.
Not only that, he also broke the Asean Schools discus record of 52.11m with his 53.88m effort. The distance also bettered James Wong’s National Schools record of 53.84m which was set 21 years ago in 1987.
I won’t be surprised if Scott manages to qualify for the 2009 South-east Asia Games.
And I would love to see him in action there even if he is not a potential medal contender simply because the experience and the higher level of competition is going to do him a world of good in his development as a thrower.
Athlete of the Year: Yip Pin Xiu (Swimmer)
And finally, here’s my Singapore Athlete of the Year.
It took me quite a while to decide whether it should be Tao Li or Pin Xiu.
And in the end, I felt that Pin Xiu deserved it more.
Why? Because of her tale of courage and because I feel the impact of her achievement has gone a long way in changing the way people perceive disabled sports in Singapore.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Tao Li had a fantastic year in the pool in 2008. She not only became the first Singaporean swimmer to reach an Olympic A final but also broke the Asian record for the 100m butterfly twice in the process.
She also became the first Singaporean swimmer to win a gold medal in the FINA/Arena World Cup series in November. In fact, she won three golds, a silver and three bronzes, and also set a new World Cup record in the 100m butterfly.
But Pin Xiu – who has muscular dystrophy, a condition which sees her muscles in a state of constant deteriorating – did something which all our able-bodied athletes have not been able to do: she won a gold medal in the 50m backstroke (S3) at the Paralympics, which is the disabled athlete’s version of the Olympics.
Now, before you scoff at the achievement, click here to have a read on what Pin Xiu has to do to get from one end of the pool to the other. I’ll quote the relevant part from that report from The Sunday Times:
” To have an idea of how the Bendemeer Secondary 4 student cuts through water, try swimming with legs tied together and with fists instead of hands.
Able-bodied world record-holders Sophie Edington (50m back, 27.67sec) and Coventry (100m back, 58.77sec) swim much faster than Pin Xiu. They slice through water, arms turning gracefully, and take about 30 strokes for 50 metres. They use their palms and forearms like oars.
Pin Xiu’s fist-like hands and weak wrists cannot catch much water, so she compensates with super-fast strokes.
Olympic backstrokers swim with their nose and mouth above water most of the time, gaining extra propulsion with their flipper-like legs.
Pin Xiu’s head is tilted back and submerged, so that her hips can rise higher in the water, reducing the drag created by her limp legs.
To start, she is dangled by her arms, which are held by her coach Ang Peng Siong. To turn, she swivels 180 degrees on her back. There are no explosive starts or tumble-turns…”
By winning the gold medal, Pin Xiu has forced the spotlight on the sort of obstacles and challenges faced by local disabled athletes. She has not only generated more awareness for disabled sports but has also created more public understanding.
More poignantly, this could be Pin Xiu’s last hurrah in the pool at Paralympic level. Her deteriorating condition is such that no one can be sure if she will be able to defend her crown, much less compete, at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. (Read here to find out more)
But whatever the case, she has, with her win, done so much, I feel, not just for herself but also for her peers in disabled sports.
For being the model of humility and human courage, Pin Xiu is my Athlete of the year.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan