Remember Howe Liang, please
While we soak in Schooling's sensational swim, spare a thought for our first Olympic medallist
There were three pairs of trackshoes in the common corridor outside his abode at his brother-in-law's HDB flat at Tampines Avenue 5.
One pair was his, worn out through his regular walks in the nearby park.
There was also a bicycle, also his, but one that has been unused for almost a year.
It reminded me about his mode of travel from his former residence at Kampong Arang to the National Stadium when he was working in the gym at the Singapore Sports Council in Kallang in the Nineties.
Once the nation's greatest athlete, Tan Howe Liang is now a forgotten man.
In the wake of swimmer Joseph Schooling's historic gold-medal feat in the 100 metres butterfly event in Rio, I decided to check on our first Olympic medallist last week.
Tan achieved the weightlifting honour at the Rome Olympics in 1960 in dramatic fashion - after an eight-hour ordeal at the Palazetto Dello Sports Hall in the Italian capital.
In the lightweight category (60-67.5 kg) competition, Russia's Viktor Bushuev had already won the gold by breaking the world record. It was down to Tan and Iraq's Abdul Wahid Aziz for the silver medal.
After just one clean and jerk lift left, Tan felt pain in his legs and the doctors advised him to return to the Athletes' Village for treatment.
This would mean a withdrawal from the competition, but battle-hardened Tan was not prepared for that.
He bore the suffering, continued to compete and eventually claimed the silver medal, ahead of 33 rivals.
Schooling won gold in Rio in also dramatic circumstances, beating three world-class swimmers - including his idol Michael Phelps - to consign the trio to joint-silver medals with an outright triumph in Olympic record time.
Like Tan's historic first, Schooling's fascinating story will be told, and retold, in print, on social media and over television.
ST FILE PHOTO
But the duo's current lives are a stark contrast, sadly.
While Schooling, 21, is the rave of the moment and is looked upon in awe by Singaporeans and the world, Tan, 83, has been consigned to history.
To the recesses of our memories.
And remembered and recognised only by his close buddies who occasionally take him out for a hawker centre meal or a chit chat over coffee.
Tan lives off his savings - slightly bloated by the sale of his three-room Kampong Arang flat two years ago - a lifelong Public Assistance allowance and monthly pocket money from his teacher-daughter.
He also helps himself financially by doing odd-jobs, but even they have become rare these days because of a right knee operation that did not turn out too well.
A walking stick comes in handy when pain arises from joint-aches, some resulting from his overindulgence with weights during his competitive days of yesteryear.
However, it was nice to see Tan (who once said: "I hope someone wins gold so that reporters will stop interviewing me every Olympic year") sharing in Schooling's success.
He was all praise for the Singapore son who rocked the swimming world, saying: "He worked hard, did himself and the country proud. I like him, I admire him, and his achievement was better than mine."
The similarity lies in that both feats were historic firsts, recognised by big celebrations and victory parades.
The means to the two ends were wrapped in a work ethic soaked in true dedication, never-say-die determination and an innate desire to excel.
But the sad truth is that on a day (last Thursday) when poster-boy Schooling was placed on a nation's pedestal and paraded through some streets of Singapore, bow-legged Tan was stretched out on a sofa in a lonely world.
Surely thinking, what it should have been.