Team Singapore flag off Chinese zodiac race at the Asian Games
The first sports meet was literally a heavenly one. According to Chinese folklore, the Jade Emperor hosted the “Great Race” for 12 animals to determine a time measurement for people, which would come to be known as the Chinese zodiac.
Think of it as a steeplechase, where the animals had to cross rapids en route to the finish line to decide the order of the 12-year cycle.
There are many versions of the story, and one legend has it that the Ox agreed to carry the Rat across the river, only for the crafty rodent to jump off upon arrival and scurry to the end point – earning top honours as the first animal of the zodiac.
Behind them, the Rabbit slipped while hopping from stone to stone and fell behind the Tiger for third place. Holding onto a log, the bunny received help from the fifth-placed Dragon, which puffed a breath of strong wind to assist its fallen foe.
The Snake hid in a hoof of the Horse to steal an advantage as they finished sixth and seventh respectively. The Goat, Monkey, and Rooster followed in this order, after displaying resourcefulness and teamwork to complete the race on a raft. The Dog was 11th after frolicking in the water, and the Pig woke from its slumber to finish last.
Trust the Chinese to come up with such an elaborate myth, but in reality, they too have a knack of going big when it comes to sports meets, especially at the Asian Games.
Already hosting what will be the biggest Games with around 12,500 athletes, China is expected to field more than 900 athletes in Hangzhou in a bid to extend their dominance to an 11th successive edition.
In a nod to the Chinese legend, The Straits Times will kick off coverage of the Asian Games by profiling 12 Singapore athletes – one for each zodiac animal – ahead of the Sept 23 to Oct 8 event.
According to the Chinese horoscope, one’s fortunes can change in a year and this has been the case for some of Singapore’s athletes.
Kitefoiler Maximillian Maeder was still 15 when the 2022 Asian Games were postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, he will celebrate his 17th birthday as world champion and an Olympic qualifier, alongside sprinter Shanti Pereira and swimmer Jonathan Tan who also booked their Paris 2024 spots in the past year.
As they head to Hangzhou, Team Singapore can take inspiration from the tiny Rat. In terms of land size, the Republic is the third-smallest of 45 participating nations, ahead of only the Maldives and Macau.
But its athletes have found ways to punch above their weight and win 41 golds and 213 medals against Asia’s best, placing the city-state in the top 16 in the all-time rankings.
This year, despite the disruption to the Games cycle, Singapore will send its biggest Asiad contingent of 431 athletes. A select few will be on cloud nine after striking gold, while a handful will find their way onto the podium.
But regardless of where they place, they will return with lessons mirroring that of the zodiac race – of sportsmanship, wit, strength in unity, and how to live life in the moment.