Sunday, August 17, 2008

11:58 PM

Its confirmed! + Phelps's record + FTs

Edit 1 (18/8 4.38pm) : Added new Olympic record.

A silver medal.
After an arduous 48-year wait, Singapore has finally repeated this feat at the Olympics again! Although we lost to China just a few hours ago, history has been made! Our FIRST medal since independence!

Actually, history was already rewritten on Friday when we defeated South Korea in the women's table-tennis semi-finals. Today's match was for gold. Nevertheless, our athletes strived very hard and their hard-won result should be viewed as a catalyst that will spur on young Singaporeans that nothing is impossible in this tiny red dot.

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Just before noon today, a new Olympic gold medal record was created. This new record of 8 gold medals attained in a single Olympics has been created by American swimmer, Michael Phelps, His last event of 4x100m Medley Relay enabled him to surpass the previous record held by also American, Mark Spitz of 7 gold medals set in 1972. In addition, he set 7 world records and one Olympic record.

Really godlike!!! Such people really pop up only once every few decades. Seeing the world coming together to constantly improve their physical standards is exciting in itself. As the decades pass, world records should get increasingly harder to break as we near the limits of our physical bodies. What Phelps has done is a total overhaul of this mindset and signifies a leg up in the sporting bar.

Granted, he had the help of the state-of-the-art LZR Racer swim suit by Speedo. But so did almost all of his competitors including Singapore's Tao Li. After all, its the swimmer, not the swimsuit that matters more. When it comes to world records, he may have had a little help. But thats not for me to argue, its legal. Anyone can always get a hold of it if you have the cash.


Here is a LZR Racer (advertising) development video by Speedo. The rest of the videos can be viewed here.

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In his chinese version of the National Day Rally speech just before the game, our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defended the need for Singapore to scout for foreign talents in the sporting arena. His example of China's population exceeding Singapore by 300x was cliche, but vivid. For every 300 medals China attains, Singapore can only get one, implying the dire odds we face.

I say, population is not the sole indicator of a country's potential. Its how you treat your people that matters too. The US with 1/5 of China's population currently leads in the medal count. (Although it has fewer gold medals). India at 3/4 the population only has one gold so far. Ok, those are still extremely big countries in absolute terms with relatively large talent pools, but you get the point.

The ideal role of the Olympics I feel, should be a place where countries cast aside their political differences for once, and showcase their "softer" side to the best of their abilities. The Olympics also raises the geographical recognition of the country. During the opening ceremony for example, I saw the names of about 1/5 of the countries only for the first time.

By bringing foreign talents into the picture, we are distorting the image we send out to the world. (I believe we have the team with largest FT ratio in the entire Olympics). FTs in the economy is ok in my view if there are no skilled locals to fill a critical job that will otherwise impact the livelihoods of other Singaporeans. Since the modern Olympics continued after WW2, its usually the same few (give or take some) 50 countries that have consistently top the ranking table and many more will be unlikely or never make it on the medals list in the near future.

Well, I feel at least, they had the decency to use their limited resources they can muster to at least send their team past the qualifying round. Singapore, on the other hand, has lots of monetary resources. So we use them, ahem, in the wisest way possible to hopefully "buy" a medal. My definition of whether a foreign talent is required, is when we are sure that there is lack of such a skill and that such a deficiency will impact other Singaporeans. I rather we seek the help of external coaches to share their expertise with locals. I dun see how a foreign talent here to represent us in an international event will improve our lives and political recognition. Other than a short-term morale boost that should probably last no more than a few months, we are back to square one living our mundane lives beset with academic/bread-and-butter issues.

Limited talent pools have regularly been cited as a reason to allow FTs in. I wonder how much of this is actually true. Or could the underlying reason be that our government is simply too lazy to train us up, preferring instead, to take the short-cut and rely on ready-made/educated FTs. After all, the cost and administration of enticing an FT to immediately start work/attend a local university requires far less work and resources than subsidising and raising a Singaporean child from birth to "productive" age. Same with sports, we are forced into the academic hothouse since primary 1, how to realise any talent if any?


Medals have always been a contentious issue as it subtly offers a reflection of the (potential) political clout of the country. China, with its aggressive Project 119 programme aims to displace the US in (gold) medal counts by striving for the sports it was traditionally weak in. By doing so, it (and any other country) hope to silently instill into the minds of billions of people, the expectation that it is, and will be, the next superpower. Of course, the idea of a more superior socialist alternative to the democratic capitalist system also spurs the US to try harder.

Its a reluctant yes from me, if thats what you are asking for. But no, if you can never become one where the stability of the world rests on your hands and you need that have that kind of influence. People will look and say, yeah, its just A medal. And when they know that medal was done directly with external help. The image of the country just slips further away from their initial surprise. What kind of reflection do you think that will be?

Ok, I'm drifting away from topic now. Li Jiawei, Feng Tian Wei and Yang Yuegu have my congratulations for helping Singapore achieve its first medal after an almost half-century drought. After the next half century, I wonder. Will Singaporeans look back and proudly tell our children about our achievement today? Or will they heap scorn at our current government for distorting our actual capabilities? I wouldn't know now, I'll be 60+ then if I'm still living and if Singapore still exists.

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