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Tan Howe Liang winning the weightlifting silver medal at the Rome Olympics. (Singapore Sports Council)

Schooling’s Olympic gold, an excellent opportunity to talk about Singapore’s sporting history

By Z'ming Cik

Is Joseph Schooling's Olympic gold medal indeed a triumph for Singapore? Or should it be better attributed to his family’s resourcefulness and the efforts of his Spanish coach from Florida in nurturing his talent??

That million-dollar question should be moot now, since what matters most to a whole new generation of Singaporean children and teenagers would be this: a citizen of multicultural Singapore has demonstrated that a local-born growing up on Chai Tow Kuay (carrot cake) can also top the world at the Olympics!

That must be a better endorsement for the local fare than any Michelin Guide name-checking hawker stalls here. And perhaps it also suggests that sponsoring local talents overseas may be more cost-effective than importing talents to be trained in Singapore?

One should only be happy if this historic win does magic to Singapore’s pride in its national identity. It should also be an excellent opportunity for the older generations to discuss Singapore’s cultural history with the young ones.

Tan Howe Liang won silver in lightweight category of weightlifting at the 1960 Rome Olympics, at a time when Singapore’s National Stadium (that would come in 1973) had not been built yet, much less the Singapore Sports Hub with its high-tech retractable roof.

Those were also the days when sports activities alongside entertainment activities and political rallies alike used to be held at a place like Gay World Amusement Park, where Tan was first inspired by a strongman competition. And Cathay-Keris Studio here used to produce movies like Badang (1962), long before Singapore staged the story about the Herculean hero this year at National Day Parade. There are so many dots in the Singapore story to be linked.

A little anecdote here: I met a friend over the weekend at a talk at the National Library (Singapore Stories seminar series), on the loss of Singapore’s iconic National Theatre, and he was lamenting afterwards on how people in Singapore these days tend to imagine Singapore as nothing more than an economic backwater of kampung life before 1965, because so many landmarks have been demolished despite their historical significance.

Hence an educated new immigrant he once talked to would be somewhat puzzled by more in-depth historical accounts, as he was coming with the impression that Singapore was little more than a fishing village in the last century before the 2000s, when Esplanade Theatre and Marina Bay Sands were built.

It is nice to know now that Joseph Schooling’s obsession with the Olympics began after hearing relatives talk about his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg, Singapore’s first representative to the Games in London 1948. Isn’t it heartwarming, to hear that a sense of pride and inspiration comes to fruition two generations down the road?

This post was first published as a Facebook post on Z'ming Cik's FB account