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    COLUMN: PH sports leaders can learn from the Singapore template

    They should stop anointing athletes as medal winners, which is their habit each time the country prepares for competition abroad. This anointment adds a real burden on our athletes who, it must be said, are already fighting their own demons to perform well.
    Jul 26, 2021
    PHOTO: Jerome Ascano

    ARE we too obsessed with winning Olympic medals?

    There is one country that is not particularly so. While the rest of the world is fixated on winning medals, spending vast sums to win just one, Singapore is in Tokyo looking cheerful and feeling lucky about just being there.

    Indeed, for Singapore, being able to send a delegation to Tokyo already feels like a victory. And it looks like this relaxed attitude is exactly what made it win its first-ever Olympic gold in 2016, at Rio, courtesy of swimmer Joseph Schooling in the 100m butterfly. Yes, this country with just over five million citizens and no larger than the size of Metro Manila has beaten us to a first gold medal.

    Schooling is now in Tokyo to defend his title. But to listen to Singapore sports officials talk, there is no pressure on Schooling to repeat the feat.

    "Joseph already made history five years ago in Rio, no one can take away the fact that he is Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist," said Toh Boon Yi, head of the Singapore Sports Institute, in a recent interview.


    "Five years is a very long time, and circumstances are very different now for Joseph. We've heard about top swimmers who are posting faster timings than him right now. Whether they can put up similar timings at the Olympics, we'll have to see,” Toh added.

    "But, we can't control that. So we're just asking Joseph to go to Tokyo and give the swim of his life. As long as he gives his all, we are happy for him."

    Joseph Schooling

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    Singapore is a much tinier country, but it is sending 23 athletes, while the Philippines, with more than 100 million citizens, is sending 19. And Singapore is competing in 12 different sports, the same number as the Philippines.

    But unlike Philippine sports officials who like predicting wins of more than one medal, including a gold, Singapore officials actually decline to give a medal target.

    They probably believe, correctly, that predictions add pressure on their athletes. They have also said that success should be measured in Singapore’s ability to increase the number of its competitors with every Olympics.

    "The fact that we were able to send athletes to 12 different sports, a big jump from seven in 2016,” say officials, “means that the system which we had put in place to produce top-class athletes in a wide range of sports is working well.

    "Winning medals is only one facet in the overall success of Singapore sports. Of course, we would be overjoyed if any one of our athletes wins an Olympic medal, but we feel that having athletes from 12 sports reaching the Olympic qualifying standard amid the COVID-19 pandemic is already an indication of success.”


    Clearly, Philippine sports leaders can learn something from the Singaporean template. As a first step, they should stop anointing athletes as medal winners, which is their habit each time the country prepares for competition abroad.

    This anointment adds a real burden on our athletes who, it must be said, are already fighting their own demons to perform well.

    Maybe just exhorting them to do their best out there and to forget about that final medal standing could do the trick.


    Caloy Yulo


    Carlos Yulo was billed the country’s savior—the one athlete to finally end 100 years of our gold-medal frustration at the Olympic Games.

    His credentials leading up to the Tokyo Games were impeccable. He was world champion and had finally reached the stage where all the hard work, long hours away from home, and daily training will now be put to a test.

    The stars did not align for Yulo. His performance bombed. He finished 44th out of 62 competitors in the floor exercises of the very gymnastics event where he was supposed to win, if not a gold medal, at least a silver or a bronze.

    That was what Filipino sports officials had predicted for him and what they had hyped for days.

    What Yulo reaped instead was heartache and disappointment. Though not rare in a competition like the Olympics, Yulo’s failure was doubly painful because he carried with him the expectations of a whole country.


    Asked what happened, Yulo said he does not know. He simply looked like a boxer who did not see what hit him.

    “Ewan ko po kung ano ang nangyari,” he told reporters who were as he stunned as he was. “Preparado naman ako. Hindi naman po ako kinabahan.”

    What doomed Yulo were costly gaffes that any gymnast would avoid at all cost. He made two awkward landings when just one would merit serious deductions. The second landing shattered his Olympic dreams, disappointed his followers, and left sports officials shaking their heads in disbelief.


      Whether Yulo can bounce back from this disappointment remains to be seen. At 21 years old, he should, but he is likely to be haunted by this experience.

      All is not lost for Yulo, though. He is in the finals of the vaulting competition. It is not his pet event but, who knows, fate and maybe luck will smile on him this time.


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      PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
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