Home pressure can spur Team Singapore athletes for Olympics
The gulf between the two sporting meets is huge.
But the South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which rolls into town in June, can be a good stepping stone for local athletes who have set their sights on making their mark at next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
At the Istana yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam hosted about 300 members of Team Singapore who competed at last year's Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Nanjing Youth Olympic Games and Incheon Asian Games and Para Games.
And on the sidelines of the event, sports administrators The New Paper spoke to said having a Games on home soil just over a year before the Olympics in August next year can help give local athletes a psychological edge.
Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua said: "It's a quantum leap from the SEA Games to Rio but, that being said, I think it can be tremendous.
"Because while people talk about homeground advantage at the SEA Games, I think it can also be homeground disadvantage.
"The expectations of our people to be able to bring home the golds, are going to be something that a lot of our athletes have never experienced before.
"Being an athlete is a journey, and one of the toughest things to manage is how mentally strong you are."
SEA Games co-chef de mission Nicholas Fang agreed.
The former national fencer and ex-Nominated Member of Parliament said: "I've been to four SEA Games, and there is actually a higher concentrated level of competition than at a higher level.
"At a world event, for example, there would be over 200 fencers and you could be in the same pool as an Olympic champion.
"Then, you can tell yourself: 'Relax, let's just try to have some fun'.
"But come back to the SEA Games, there are 12 fencers and you start to think, 'Maybe I can win'. But the problem is, all of them can win, too.
"So it's a wonderful platform for our athletes to learn to be mentally tough, resilient, and deal with this kind of very concentrated pressure."
TNP also spoke to athletes who pointed to the challenge of performing under pressure as the biggest challenge they will have to overcome.
Sailor Colin Cheng was the top Asian at the 2012 London Olympics and has also earned the Republic a berth at next year's Olympics.
The 25-year-old, who is based in Australia, told TNP: "The SEA Games is similar to the Rio Olympics in that it's also a major games.
"I'm looking forward to using the opportunity to hone my ability to perform under pressure, especially on home waters."
Boxer Ridhwan Ahmad, meanwhile, has not put much thought into competing at the Olympics.
But he knows all about Syed Abdul Kadir's exploits in Munich in 1972 - the last time a boxer from the Republic made it onto the biggest stage of sport - and said it would be the "greatest honour" for a sportsman.
"For boxing, the standard at the SEA Games is quite good, because there are some Thai and Filipino boxers who have medalled at the Asian Games," he said.
"I guess at the home SEA Games, the expectation is there.
"Now that there have been a few articles about the SEA Games and boxing, people ask me if I feel pressure.
"But it doesn't affect me, really.
"And I'll treat the matches when they come for what they are, just matches."
Rugby chief Low Teo Ping said the disparity in the level of quality in most sports between the SEA Games and Olympics does not mean there might not be a co-relation between performances at the two meets.
"Look at (top swimmer) Joseph Schooling, for example," said Low.
"For the SEA Games, where his mandate is winning many more medals than he could ever at the Olympics, what is important is confidence-building.
"We expect him to win six golds and, if he does achieve it, it would be very good for his confidence."
But Fang warned: "In sport, anything can happen. You could have an off-day, be injured or sick. So I wouldn't say you have to dominate regionally to prove you can do well internationally.
"People who may not have won a gold at the SEA Games have gone on to medal at the Asian Games, so I don't think one requires the other."
DO THEIR BEST
Phua agreed, and said she made this clear during a team meeting with her bowlers last week.
"I told my athletes I don't want them to go out at the SEA Games to win gold, I want them to go and do their best," she said.
"Show your country and your fellow Singaporeans that they can depend on you. Whether that perfect execution results in a medal does not matter, because you can never control the outcome. All your country asks of you is for you to try your best."
"While people talk about homeground advantage at the SEA Games, I think it can also be homeground disadvantage... The expectations... are going to be something that a lot of our athletes have never experienced before."
- Singapore Bowling Federation president Jessie Phua
Hoping to get the public hooked
Co-chef de mission for the 2015 SEA Games, Nicholas Fang.
Much of the local talk about June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games has been centred around whether the current crop of local athletes can match the 50-gold haul of 22 years ago, the last time Singapore hosted the Games.
Yet, local sports administrators believe the upcoming biennial Games serves as a chance for Singaporeans to remind themselves about the joy of watching high-quality sport live.
Nicholas Fang a former journalist and national fencer who is the co-chef de mission for the 2015 SEA Games, together with Dr Tan Eng Liang, told The New Paper yesterday: "In 1993, I was a cub reporter covering the Games.
"Now, I have athletes on the team whose fathers competed then. It's a generational gap, and this applies to the spectators, too.
"Singaporeans may have forgotten the days where they would come out to enjoy a sports event for the sake of sports, not just because Singapore could win a match or a medal.
"Sometimes you need to be there, in the atmosphere... and we haven't had a chance to do that in years.
"So we need to remind ourselves to come out and watch sport 'live' and get hooked."
Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping said that, while the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) have many activities lined up to whip up interest in the Games, the respective National Sports Associations (NSA) have a part to play in stirring up excitement, too.
Said Low: "There will be quite a fair bit done (by Singsoc)... so I think there will be a lot of the younger people in particular coming forward.
"But I also I think it's in the NSAs' own interests to get local support for their sport, and not just expect people to turn up for the events."
Bowling chief Jessie Phua said too much importance has been put on the pursuit of gold medals.
"In the build-up to these Games, everyone's always talking about medals, medals, medals," she said.
"But I think if (the media) share the athletes' journey to fly the flag for Singapore, the average Singaporean will appreciate the hard work they have put in and will support them regardless of the result.
"And the athletes will go out and compete, knowing they are not alone and that their fellow countryman is there to cheer them on, and they don't have to worry about the gold."