It had initially begun as a quest for 50 gold medals to celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee this year, but Team Singapore’s 749-member contingent at the 28th SEA Games had emphatically blasted the ball out of the park, ending the 19-day multi-sports event with a record haul of 84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze medals across 36 sports.
It is the Republic’s best showing at the SEA Games since its previous record of 50 gold at the 1993 Games, and it earned them second spot on the medal tally, just behind Thailand.
Scoring Team Singapore’s report card with an “eight or nine” out of 10, Singapore’s chefs de mission Tan Eng Liang and Nicholas Fang attributed the unprecedented haul — a huge 170 per cent jump from the 34 gold won at the last edition in Myanmar in 2013 — to several factors.
The main one, said Mr Tan, was the careful selection of sports and events. It was a sentiment echoed by Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) secretary general Chris Chan, who added: “We zeroed in on the three categories (compulsory sports, Olympic and Asian Games sports, other sports) that suited our needs. If you spend S$300 plus million (S$324.5 million), you want to do pretty well.”
Other factors Mr Tan highlighted included the commitment of Singaporean athletes, support from their family members and government agencies, as well as the Final Push — a one-year support scheme that was introduced to disburse some S$4 million to athletes training full-time for the Games.
“We also can’t overstate the importance of financial funding, the work that the sports institute has done,” said Mr Fang, referring to the Singapore Sports Institute.
“In the past if you think about this kind of high level support (sports science, biomechanics etc) maybe it was restricted to your key sports, but now SSI is trying to make this available to all the sports that are trying to raise their game.”
A total of 36 sports were contested in the 28th SEA Games, with Team Singapore medalling in 33 sports. The top six performers were: Aquatics (swimming, synchronised swimming and water polo) with 26 gold, sailing (10), canoeing (7), table tennis (6), wushu (6) and shooting (5) — producing 60 gold, or about 70 per cent of the total gold medal haul. At the last Games in Naypyidaw, these six sports won just 25 gold medals, with aquatics leading the pack with 12 gold.
Three sports — football, tennis and petanque — did not win any medals at these Games, with the Under-23 footballers drawing the most criticism from fans after failing to advance beyond the group stage. Coach Aide Iskandar resigned immediately after their last match against Indonesia.
In contrast, the national men’s football team stole a point from their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Japan last night, holding the Asian giants to a goalless draw in Saitama. Said Mr Tan: “I’m disappointed but you can’t take away the fact that they (athletes in sports that did not medal) really played their guts out. I expect them to do detailed analysis and implement something if they want to improve.”