SPEXSCHOLARS ON THE RISE
According to Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) executive director Fabian Lim, athletes who got the nod for the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) last year made up around 10 per cent of the 309 that competed at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Myanmar last December.
But they contributed 20 of the 34 gold medals won by Team Singapore.
Funding for the spexScholarship athletes has kicked in this month, and Assoc Prof Lim believes Singapore fans will see the improvement with their own eyes, when the country hosts the SEA Games next year.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme (MAP) yesterday, Lim said: "The performance at the (Myanmar) SEA Games is not due to spex programmes, but it shows that the selection process was spot on.
"We've launched spex programmes with close to 10 sports, and another five will be launched at the end of this month, but we're still at the beginning stages of developing programmes with the various National Sports Associations (NSAs).
"This year's Asian Games (in Incheon, from Sept 19 to Oct 4) will probably come too early to see the effects (of the programme), but 2015 will certainly be a good time."
Launched in March last year with the aim of enhancing support for top athletes, the spexScholarship programme - backed by a war chest of $40 million over five years - supports 66 athletes from 15 sports in its first batch of scholars.
The SSI runs the programme, tracking and monitoring athletes' performances.
Speaking at the MAP event hosted at the Swissotel Merchant Court Ballroom, Deputy Prime Minister and SNOC president Teo Chee Hean challenged the country's leading athletes to push themselves, with the Commonwealth Games (July 23 to Aug 3) and the Asian Games looming.
"Standards at these events are higher, and those of you who will be competing in them, will be up against world-class athletes... Train hard, both physically and mentally, and do Singapore proud.
"If you have the ability and the determination, we will support you all the way. Last year, we introduced the Sports Excellence Scholarship to enhance the level of support for our top athletes who have demonstrated potential to win at various levels.
"I hope this support will motivate all of you to strive even harder, to achieve excellence in your respective sports."
This year's MAP event for gold medallists at last year's SEA Games saw $400,000 handed out to athletes.
It was dominated by a slew of spex scholars, with swimmer Joseph Schooling topping the charts, taking home $27,500 for his five-gold haul.
Teammates Tao Li ($22,500) and Amanda Lim ($17,500) were the next highest earners, followed by canoeists Stephanie Chen and Suzanne Seah ($15,000 each).
Tao Li, among others, has grappled with funding issues due to the fact that her overseas training stints kicked off before her scholarship money kicked in, but Lim gave the assurance yesterday that the kinks will be ironed out.
"We are working with the NSA, and finalising plans and programmes for swimming. Once that is done we will be good to go," he said, adding that funding has already started for sports like table tennis.
National women's head coach Jing Junhong is buoyed by the additional support, saying: "The extra funding will be helpful, especially in helping local players build a career, and hopefully improve enough to reach the Olympic level. This is real support."
Lim is set to leave the SSI next month, but he believes the platform is already in place for the spexScholarship programme to be successful.
Singapore Sports Council's chief of sports development and SSI, Bob Gambardella, will take the reins as the organisation scouts for Lim's replacement.
"This year's Asian Games will probably come too early to see the effects, but 2015 will certainly be a good time."
- Fabian Lim (above) MAP