In Singapore, Ang Peng Siong was probably the first figure of swimming.
He was nicknamed Asia’s ‘Flying Fish’, idolised and the source of inspiration for many.
In 1982, Ang Peng Siong became the first, and since then the only, Singaporean to hold the world number one ranking in the 50m freestyle with a time of 22.69 seconds for 33 years until it was broken by Schooling at the 2015 SEA games.
He was awarded the ’the world fastest swimmer’ title in 1982. He would go on to bring the name of Singapore in world events, including the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics.
During his peak as an athlete at the end of 1986 he was drafted into National Service. It was found out in an interview that as a Naval officer he had suffered from heat exhaustion during an 8km route march and had caved-in to pneumonia later.
After an appeal by the Singapore Amateur Swimming Association (SASA), finally he managed to get a six-month deferment to participate in the 1988 Seoul games. There, in his own words, he was “devastated”. He missed the finals by one place after coming in ninth place.
This stark story was a contrast with the kind of attention that Schooling has received, either in pre and post the Olympic victory.
Many have asked what kind of support the government had given him before and after his success as a sportsman as political leaders lined up to take photos with Schooling and granted NS deferment after his victory.
Harsh crititsm have been made on the government’s move to train ‘imported’ athletes rather over nurturing native Singaporeans as potential athletes.
In a Facebook post that went viral on Monday (15 Aug), Jennifer Yong had ranted about how her friend’s daughter had to pay $10k to enter training while the Singapore Table Tennis Association had preferred ‘imported’ foreign players over locals.
Henry Ace, another Facebook user, reacting to the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, asked: “Did you know that at least 15 imported athletes have abandoned S’pore to return to their homeland. This is S’poreans’ money down the toilet.”
Another Facebook user Dorine Pangsoh commented that it was a pity that “even our own gov didn’t help much for him. If they had spent the resources on him instead of feeding to those, we could have had our gold long time ago.”
Nearly a month ago, as Singapore came to a standstill and watched Joseph Schooling make history in Rio de Janeiro, Ang Peng Siong was among them.
He watched the 21-year-old Schooling won the nation’s fifth Olympic medal and especially, the first one ever with a gold hue.
Yahoo Sports Singapore reported that although it was a triumphant moment for Singapore sport, it was also a particularly poignant one for the former national swim star.
At Farrer Park Swimming Complex, he told Yahoo Singapore in an interview earlier this week, “Winning that gold medal has always been something that, personally, I wanted for Singapore.”
“I think…” he dragged off, as emotions caught the better of him; Ang needed a minute to compose himself before continuing the interview.
“It’s a special moment… For Joseph to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games and to hear Majulah Singapura is definitely a rare occasion and something to celebrate for all Singaporeans,” he said while fighting back tears.
Quoting the Paralympic gold medal in 2008, Yip Pin Xiu, Ang stated that ‘doing Singapore proud is the ultimate goal for most athletes when they compete.’
The 53-year-old Ang himself has one Asian Games and 20 SEA Games gold medals.
“I think that’s what sports is about: bringing the nation together, and celebrating together,” said Ang, who was also Yip’s former coach.
“How many events do you have this sense of pride? As a national athlete, that’s the kind of emotions we want to project to the community.”
“As long as we instill that dream in everyone that ‘hey if Joseph can do it, if Pin Xiu can do it, why can’t I?’ – I think that’s pretty much the message we want to give to every Singaporean.”
“You need key strategies to ensure that we are able to experience that success – there’s no shortcut,” Ang explained.
“Just one cycle will not be enough for us to achieve the strategies we want… I think the life of an athlete has to be single-minded in approach, and there must be a very clear and objective approach to eight-year cycle to ensure success on the world stage.”
Ang observed that Schooling’s parents, Colin and May, have set a good example with their “unconditional support and love” and believes other parents need to realise and learn from it.
“Not everyone is going to be like Joseph, but if the parents are a hundred per cent behind the child in terms of what they want to do, it can always translate into something else,” he said.
“They may not succeed in the sport, but when they have that kind of encouragement and support, they will continue to be successful in other areas of life.”
In response to the video, Joseph Schooling acknowledges Ang’s feelings by posting a thankful remark in his Facebook: “Uncle Ang Peng Siong you are a legend in your own way. Without former athletes like you that helped paved the way, the success will not have happened. Thank you.”
Ang Peng Siong is the coach of Paralympic gold medalist Yip Pin Xiu, who just won her second gold at the Rio Olympics 2016 on Saturday.