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SEA Games 2023: Performance shows future is bright for S’pore sport, says SSI chief

PHNOM PENH – Even as Singapore has established itself as a consistent performer at the SEA Games, with the haul of 51 golds in Cambodia continuing on that success, Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) chief Su Chun Wei said it must look at making an impact on bigger stages like the Asian Games and Olympics.

The Republic’s 554 athletes across 30 sports added 43 silvers and 64 bronzes here to finish sixth in the overall standings. The 51 gold-haul is also the fourth-highest in Singapore’s history, after the 84 titles at the 2015 edition on home soil, 58 from Kuala Lumpur in 2017 and 53 from the 2019 Manila Games.

Su, speaking at a press conference to wrap up Singapore’s campaign in Phnom Penh, said: “We certainly have what it takes to break through at the Asian and world level. And in fact, some sports have already broken through, it’s now really about sustaining a performance at those current levels.

“Fencing is a good example. They now believe they can be a powerhouse in South-east Asia. So the natural next question is Asian... It’s building the bench strength not just around one or two athletes, but the whole cohort and for the system and a process to bring them through.

“It’s not a short process but I believe that if we continue to keep faith in what we do as a system, we will deliver. I will not say numbers but let the process deliver the results.”

Singapore dominated the fencing programme here, winning seven of the 12 finals. At the 2018 Asiad in Indonesia, the women’s foil team clinched a bronze, the nation’s first team medal at the quadrennial Games.

Su also highlighted swimming, praising Jonathan Tan who met the Paris 2024 A qualifying time in the 50m freestyle, and sailing as those that can be competitive at a much higher level than the SEA Games. Both sports have delivered golds at the last four Asian Games since 2006.

Sprinter Shanti Pereira, who won the 100m and 200m double, has also raised her game, he noted. Her personal best of 22.69sec in the latter, set last week, is just 0.12 off the 22.57sec qualifying time for the next Olympics and under Bahraini Edidiong Odiong’s winning effort (22.96) at the 2018 Asiad.

Aside from athletics (three golds, two silvers and five bronzes) which Su said “continues to go from strength to strength” since the Hanoi SEA Games in 2022, table tennis, badminton and water polo were also earned kudos for their results in Cambodia.

The national sports associations that underperformed have a lot to reflect on, as he singled out men’s football, basketball, golf and cycling. “We would want the team to learn from the experience and come out stronger,” he said.

Overall, chef de mission Dr Hing Siong Chen said what he witnessed from Singapore athletes at the 32nd SEA Games were displays of guts and courage. They also set eight Games records, 17 national marks and 40 personal bests. He added: “They were outstanding in what they did, fought very hard. We are proud of them.”

Tellingly, there were 259 debutants who contributed 57 of the 158 medals while the contingent’s average age was 24.

Another positive trend cited was the increased frequency of golds won. The last five Games, including the 2023 edition, have produced 293 golds. The preceding 27, dating back to the 1959 SEAP Games, totalled 753. While it took 64 years for Singapore to reach 1,000 golds – the women’s 4x100m free relay swim team took the honours – the current rate is almost twice as fast.

Such statistics bode well for the future, particularly with 2029 Games on home soil, said Su. “This cohort of youthful athletes continue to be the backbone for multiple SEA games campaigns. We hope they will continue to fly our flags high.

“And this reflects the strength of a high performance sport ecosystem in Singapore which is a generating one that will continue to aim higher, run faster, and do whatever it takes for us to fulfil our national ambition that brings Singapore together.”