SAF Sportsmen Scheme a boon to aspiring champions
When former 400m hurdles youth record holder Timothee Yap enlisted in the army in 2013, he thought he could take it easy and get more time for his training.
But after being named as his platoon's best recruit in basic military training, he became an officer and was posted to Officer Cadet School as a staff officer.
Fortunately, he got time off under a scheme for sportsmen, and was able to take half a day off for training almost daily.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Sportsmen Scheme gives athletes time off for training and overseas competitions during their national service (NS).
Time off is subject to their units' operational requirements. For instance, no time off will be granted during Basic Military Training.
Mr Yap, 23, who now competes in the 100m sprint, told The New Paper: "I was lucky to get the best of both worlds, to do what I wanted in NS and in sports."
The NUS law undergraduate did not apply for deferment because he did not think he would qualify. In early 2013, swimmer Joseph Schooling had yet to get deferment to train for the 2016 Olympics.
To be selected, athletes must have the potential to excel at the South-east Asian (SEA), Asian, Commonwealth and Olympic games.
The issue of support for athletes doing national service was in the spotlight last month when footballer Ben Davis, 17, failed to get NS deferment.
Ben had signed a professional contract with English club Fulham in June but is due to enlist in December.
National canoeist Brandon Ooi, 23, who was also on the SAF Sportsmen Scheme, said taking half a day off to train during his second year of service in 2014 helped tremendously.
Before that, he had to wake up before 5am every day to go for his twice-daily training sessions while serving as a storeman at Changi Air Base.
The NUS business analytics student credits his gold medal in the 2015 SEA Games in the K2, 1,000m event to the time off.
He said: "We love Singapore, otherwise we wouldn't be representing the country. Though national service is something we can't help, I hope that more flexibility can be given, for the sake of future athletes."
Basketballer Delvin Goh, 23, who is also on the scheme while serving NS as a technician, said: "It is still possible to train while in NS as top-notch players wake up at 4am to do so, but having more time helps a lot.
"It is only fair for everyone to serve, no matter their talents in other areas."
Not all athletes were successful in applying for the SAF scheme. Former long jumper Matthew Goh, 27, applied in 2011, but did not have the results in the previous year to back up his application.
The trader at a bank said: "Although my personal best was two years earlier, not being on the scheme meant that I missed out on important training."