Don't pressure Schooling, says ex-Golden Girl Pat
Swim great Chan does not want pressure to distract youngster
The country's original "Golden Girl", one-time swim queen Patricia Chan has been through it all.
She carried the weight of the nation on her shoulders en route to 39 gold medals at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games (now the South-east Asia Games), she won medals at the Asian Games and competed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
She had to endure media scrutiny, was constantly asked about her medal chances and was never left alone when she failed to meet expectations.
So when the subject of Joseph Schooling comes up, Chan has some advice for Singapore - ease off the pressure.
"I used to have the press write how many medals I was going to win, and it was the most irritating thing," the 62-year-old said yesterday on the sidelines of an aquatics exhibition at the Kallang Wave Mall.
"For young people to have that pressure on them, you have to respect what he wants to do and (separate it from) what he ought to do."
Excitement is building as the clock ticks down to the Olympics in Rio from Aug 5 to 21, with a growing number believing butterfly sprint star Schooling can deliver Singapore's first Olympic gold.
Schooling is in the form of his life in the 200m butterfly, which will also see American superstar Michael Phelps in the field.
Chan warned against such predictions.
"In my lifetime of watching a lot of the Olympics, there's always somebody, somewhere who's a dark horse," she said.
"We would love for Joseph to do spectacularly, but to speculate, many slip, as they say."
At just 20 and 19 respectively, Schooling and fellow Olympic 'A' qualifier Quah Zheng Wen have big futures ahead of them, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will probably be an even better bet for the duo.
But, with the pair set to fulfil their National Service (NS) duties - they were both granted deferments by Mindef to be able to concentrate on preparing for this year's Games - after their commitments in Rio, questions have been raised on how the two talented swimmers could be helped to become even better for 2020.
Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) marketing and communications director Mohamed Hafidz said yesterday the SSA are unaware of any plans for a second deferment for either of the two athletes.
"In terms of planning, we don't know what Mindef is going to do. So for the two of them, it's going to be competing at the Olympics and then coming back to Singapore," he said.
Hafidz said there could be a case for athletes to combine NS with elite-level training.
"Sport Singapore, SSA and Mindef are always in talks on how we can actually do that," he said.
"We're already talking to them about our next generation of athletes, those who are 16 and 17, and how we can help."
For Chan, deferring NS for top-level athletes is a "big decision".
But even if Schooling were to fall short at August's sporting extravaganza, Chan said Singaporeans should not come down too hard on him.
"What we have to learn as a nation is to understand maturely that everyone has good and bad days, and in a bad time, encouragement does a lot more than criticism," she said.
"I know this boy, he will give his utmost; that's his nature and that's what makes him a champion, whatever the outcome."
A LEGACY MISSION, AND A STORY TO TELL
The Singapore Swimming Association Legacy Council might only be 11 months old, but its members already have ambitious plans to cement the standing of aquatic sports here.
Chairperson and former national swim star Patricia Chan revealed plans to launch a Hall of Fame.
"We have started by recognising people who've made outstanding achievements to swimming, and we also want to forge a culture based on recognition," she said, on the sidelines of an aquatics exhibition at the Kallang Wave Mall yesterday.
The Hall of Fame, which will most likely take on a virtual form, will be open to any aquatic athlete past or present.
LEGENDS: Singapore Swimming Association Legacy council members (from left, above) Ang Peng Siong, Patricia Chan and Tay Chin Joo at the aquatic exhibition at Kallang Wave. PHOTOS: ST, ST FILE
Chan noted: "It'll be great if the sports bodies can work together, because in Singapore, physical space is very cost-prohibitive."
The council - comprising ex-national swimmers Chan, Ang Peng Siong and Tay Chin Joo, and National Institute of Education senior lecturer Nick Aplin - also aims to compile a virtual archive of records and achievements.
"We have forged a partnership with the National Archives, primarily because sport is part of history in Singapore," Chan said.
"It isn't eventually going to be about achievement, but in the long run, we will discover that the culture of swimming very much mirrors the culture of Singapore."
While sifting through names and records, Chan said the team uncovered interesting facts about the nation and its people.
"In learning about the history of who's who and who did what, you inadvertently stumble on political, social and community scenarios.
"So, what happens is you begin to humanise not just the names or gold medals; these are people who really overcame so much to be where they were," she said.
The council plans to gather profiles and anecdotes by getting the public to write in.
"We want people who remembered certain things at a certain time to share that and put it into what would be a virtual space," Chan said.
"The point about legacy is it doesn't matter if you swam once for Singapore or didn't make the team, you're still part of this tapestry."
- AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD