SPORTS IN SINGAPORE: OLYMPICS, PING PONG AND IMPORTED ATHLETES

BOWLERS, BODY BUILDERS AND RACY ‘CRESCENT MOON’ SWIMSUITS

Singapore hosted the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010. Chua Ling Fung won a gold medal in the 70-kilogram class of the Asia Games bodybuilding competition in Qatar. Singapore's bowlers have won the World Cup and World Masters titles.

"You have Singaporeans doing amazing things," said Teo Ser Luck, a senior official of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. In the late 1990s, a Singaporean team reached the summit Mt. Everest. The same team later crossed Antarctica.

In 2010, Scott Baker of Associated Press wrote: “Singapore rebuked its national water polo team for wearing swim trunks that feature an “inappropriate” likeness of the city-state’s flag. The trunks, which were designed by members of the men’s team currently competing in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, show the flag’s white crescent moon jutting up from the groin area with five stars to the side on a red background. “Unfortunately the team did not seek our advice on the use of the crescent moon and stars when they designed their swim trunks,” the Information Ministry said in a statement Thursday. “We would have told them that their design is inappropriate as we want elements of the flag to be treated with dignity.” [Source: Scott Baker, AP, November 25, 2010]

“The ministry, which normally evaluates the use of the flag on uniforms on a case-by-case basis, declined to specify which part of the design was objectionable. The trunks sparked a controversy in the local media and on Internet message boards, with some offended by the use of the national flag while others were amused at the furor. Asian Games rules stipulate that a team’s uniform cannot be changed in the middle of the tournament, so the government will allow the water polo players to wear the trunks when they play Kuwait on Thursday for fifth place. The team apologized and said it would retire the trunks after the Asian Games. “We didn’t have the slightest intention to do anything funny on our trunks to insult Singapore,” team manager Samuel Wong, who helped design the trunks, told the Straits Times.

Singapore and the Olympics

To date, athletes from Singapore have won a total of 4 medals at the Olympics. No athlete from Singapore has ever won a gold medal. Singaporean weightlifter Tan Howe Liang won a silver medal in weightlifting at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Singaporean diplomat Ng Ser Miang has sought to become president of the International Olympics Committee (IOC).

At Beijing in 2008 Singapore was second in medals by area: 1 medal per 268 square miles. At London in 2012 Singapore did even better, as it won two medals by area it won 1 medal per 134 square miles.

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, two Singaporean athletes made it into the semi-finals, in badminton and table tennis. AFP reported: “From coffee shops to shopping malls and homes, thousands were glued to their TV sets. Paddler Li Jiawei and badminton player Ronald Susilo both placed fourth. But win or lose, the tiny nation was galvanised. "It's astounding, half a nation glued to the TV. It's a nation-building exercise," said former swimmer Patricia Chan. "I came from a time when sports was a building block for the nation. Somewhere along the way we lost it," said Chan, 50, who won a total of 39 gold medals in the South East Asian Peninsula Games and South East Asian Games between 1965 and 1973.

Singapore has sent athletes to most Summer Olympic Games held since 1948, when it was established as a separate British Crown Colony from the Straits Settlements just over three months before the commencement of the 1948 Summer Olympics. It continued to send a team to the Games until 1964 when Singapore was part of Malaysia, which sent a combined team. Upon Singapore's full independence from Malaysia in 1965, the country continued to participate in all subsequent editions of the Summer Games except in 1980 when the country participated in a large Olympic boycott. No athlete from Singapore has competed in any Winter Olympic Games. Singapore is making a bid to participate in the Winter Olympic Games in 2014 via construction of its first Olympic-sized ice skating rink in April 2012. [Source: Wikipedia]

Singapore has won four Olympic medals, the first at the 1960 Summer Games, the second at the 2008 Summer Games and the third and fourth at the 2012 Summer Games. The first medal was won by Tan Howe Liang, who won a silver medal in lightweight weightlifting in 1960. In table tennis, Jing Jun Hong and Li Jiawei came close to winning medals by finishing in fourth place at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2004 Athens Olympics respectively. Singapore sent a big contingent to the Beijing Olympics, and many felt that with many 'home' players in Singapore's squad, this was their best chance of winning a medal since 1960 - they were proven right.

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Li Jiawei, together with Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu, beat the South Korea Women's Table Tennis team, composed of Dang Ye-Seo, Kim Kyung-Ah and Park Mi-Young 3-2 in the semi-finals, assuring Singapore of at least a silver medal and ending Singapore's 48-year Olympic medal drought. Singapore faced host China in the gold medal final. In the 2012 London Olympics, Feng Tianwei beat Kasumi Ishikawa from Japan 4-0 in the Table Tennis Women's Singles Bronze Medal Match, winning Singapore's first individual Olympic medal in 52 years. In the Table Tennis Women's Team Bronze Medal Match, Li Jiawei, together with Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu, beat the South Korea team composing Dang Ye-Seo, Kim Kyung-Ah and Seok Ha-Jung 3-0, winning another bronze medal.

Anger in Singapore Over Olympic Medals Won by Imported Athletes

When China-born Feng Tianwei won Singapore’s first individual bronze medal in table tennis at the Olympics in 2012, the republic’s first medal since 1960, instead of nationwide celebrations, her victory sparked strong criticism of the government’s programme of importing sports talents from abroad. Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “A tussle of will appears to have broken out between the government and many of its people over the issue of attracting foreign talent to win sports medals. In the London 2012 Olympics, China-born Feng Tianwei, who became a citizen in 2007, won Singapore’s first individual bronze medal since 1960. Instead of nationwide celebrations, her victory sparked off strong criticism of the government’s programme of importing sports talents from abroad to win glory for Singapore. Subsequently, the three women’s paddlers, all imports from China, won the team bronze.

“The results unleashed a level of emotions that surprised me. Actually, the feelings were already evident five years ago when Feng, given citizenship, began to make a name for herself – and Singapore. But the intensity at the time had been nothing as widespread as currently. In an online poll, some 77 percent of Singaporeans said they did not feel proud of her achievement – comparable to another that showed 78 percent of people were opposed to foreigners. So far, the government seems unimpressed with this statistics. As the public opposition grew, the pro-government media argued strongly for the players, and acting Cabinet Minister (for Social and Family Development) Chan Chun Sing congratulated the table tennis team for “uniting the nation”. Some observers believe the public feelings reflected the country’s mood against foreign workers in general, blaming them for taking away jobs and opportunities.

For years, the programme had started in the schools. The government had been scouring parts of China to source for provincial youth champions – or the second of third best. They were enlisted into our schools, given scholarships and liberal allowances that allowed them to train. Table tennis was not the only sport. At the peak, badminton, athletics, football, basketball, swimming, etc were all targets. In fact, the talent-scouting programme has extended way beyond sports. Over the years, the republic has been bringing in thousands of skilled foreigners. They ranged from musicians for the Singapore Philharmonic Orchestra to biotech research scientists and from university professors to entrepreneurs. Singapore is not alone in “buying” sports medals. Top women table tennis and badminton players from China and Indonesia have been representing their adopted countries in Europe.

But the policy of buying talent is increasingly encountering opposition at home. Critics have pointed out that such a policy would earn Singapore world contempt and derision and discourage locals from developing to become champions. Some Singaporeans said they felt closer to and prouder of Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei although he narrowly lost the badminton gold to a Chinese player than they were of Singapore’s China imports. Alvin Soh said: “Malaysians have every reason to be proud. Lee Chong Wei is a great local hero. “The majority of Singaporeans are not happy with the idea of buying China citizens to play for us,” Soh said.

To T.W. Tan, importing foreign sportsmen would only discourage their own athletes as they would be denied the chance to take part in any real competitions. For winning the bronze, Feng will be paid S$250,000 (RM625,000) by the state of which she will have to contribute 20 percent – or S$50,000 (RM125,000) – to the table tennis association. There is criticism, but there are also strong messages of congratulations and praises for Singapore’s bronze winners. “It is not fair to attack them. It is not their fault. They have worked hard for their achievements,” said one surfer.

Singapore Imports Athletes to Improve Its Performance

Singapore's performance in international and Olympic sports has been boosted by foreign-born players. Singapore, which has about 5.5 million citizens, launched Project Rainbow in 1993 with the goal of becoming one of Asia's top 10 sporting nations and doubling the value of the local sports industry to S$800 million by 2010. To reach this goal Singapore had to overcome the limitations of the small population and the lack of a professional sporting ethic. Forty foreign sportsmen, including Chinese table tennis players and European footballers, have been naturalised since then and the scheme has certainly served Singapore well. At the Commonwealth Games in 2002, Singapore achieved its best performance at the Games with 13 medals, out of which 12 were clinched with the help of foreign-born athletes. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 14, 2003 <>]

In the early 2000s, the city-state began taking at look at how the program of importing athletes affected the local talent pool. AFP reported: “The table tennis and badminton victories have had little lustre for some Singaporeans who felt as if the predominantly ethnic Chinese nation had bought the medals by naturalising foreign players...Out of the some 300 Singapore representatives who competed in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, 22 athletes were born overseas and they helped clinch a third of the island republic's 30 gold medals, a bigger haul than expected. Under the review, all new applications for citizenship, permanent residency and employment passes under the 10-year-old foreign sporting talent scheme have been put on hold by the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS). <>

“A spokeswoman said the ministry conducts "regular reviews of policies as a standard process" and public feedback had been sought as part of the process. "The aim of the review is to clarify the role of foreign-born athletes in our sports development and the process and criteria for bringing them to Singapore, their integration into society and naturalisation as citizens," she said. <>

“Sports minister Yaacob Ibrahim spoke up for the imported sportsmen then, saying they help boost the standards of local athletes and expand Singapore's small talent base. "With more champions in our midst, and with well-structured training programmes in place, we can bring about a more competitive and dynamic sports environment here in Singapore," he said. "We can then look forward to producing more home-grown champions as we have done in the past." <>

“China-born table-tennis champion Jing Jun Hong, one of the policy's pioneers, was exasperated by the furore last year. "I've been in Singapore for more than 12 years, I married a local and I'm the mother of a four-year-old Singapore boy," she said. "I've been proud and happy all these years but, every now and then, there will be some who will bring up these questions of loyalty and citizenship." "Really, what can I say? Is there any way of proving myself? Is there a test I can take?" Meanwhile, the Singapore Sports School, the first of its kind here, is due to open its doors in January with an initial intake of 150 students, aged 13 and 14, who are gifted in badminton, bowling, track and field, sailing, swimming, table tennis, football and netball. With full boarding facilities, it hopes to strike a fine balance between academics and sports, breeding a new generation of athletes who will reduce the island's need to bring in outsiders. <>

Furor Over Singapore’s Imported Athletes at One School

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “A simple inter-school badminton match has developed into a national debate over how welcome foreigners are in Singapore. It began when a little-known sports school nearly became a giant killer through fielding players from the world’s best badminton nation, China – and created a public furore. The coach of the Jurong Junior College, Haden Hee, whose foreign talents took it into the inter-school finals for the first time, ticked off his detractors, saying: “We Singaporeans should buck up and not resent foreign players.” [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, June 13, 2009 ><]

“The girls’ team the school fielded was all-China, while of the seven in the boys’ team four were Chinese, one Korean and two Singaporeans. They swept away all rivals until the finals, when the team lost to Raffles Junior College (RJC), an all-Singaporean team. It was an emotion-packed encounter that was cheered as a local-versus- foreigner contest. ><

The furore shows how deep the resentment has grown here over the massive influx of foreigners, who are accused of depriving locals of jobs and opportunities. With foreigners now making up a third of Singapore’s population, there is growing concern over social stability, especially as unemployment is rising. “A lot of us feel like we’re playing for Singapore against a foreign team,” said an RJC player. “This is a warning sign of unhappy sentiments against foreigners,” said Kevin Kelvin Teo at KentRidgecommon.com.><

Singapore’s Effort to Produce Homegrown Athletic Talent

In November 2004, the China Daily reported: “Alex Lee trains for hours in the pool at Singapore's only sports school, aspiring to be a top swimmer like his idol, Olympic champion Michael Phelps. He also wants to be a successful banker when he grows up. Lee is among a new batch of athletes who board at the impressive 7-hectare (170-acre) sports school, nestled between a highway and a housing estate in northern Singapore, where he spends as much time honing swimming techniques as studying for top grades. The teenager's balancing act is typical in a country where parents push their children to attain high academic grades. "One or two may succeed but thousands fail," the 13-year-old said, preferring to hedge his bets on a traditional career in one of the nation's key industries. [Source: China Daily, November 9, 2004]

Singapore has set the goal of becoming one of Asia's top 10 sporting nations by 2010. A government panel set up in 2000 laid out an extensive blueprint for developing the sports industry, including the building of a school dedicated to sports. Students can specialise in badminton, bowling, netball, sailing, soccer, swimming, table tennis and track and field. They have flexible class and exam schedules while training. "It's a gentler version of the army," said Gerard Wong, the school's marketing and communications manager. The Committee on Sporting Singapore report published in 2001 states that Singapore aims to win the Thomas Cup for badminton in slightly more than 10 years, qualify for the final rounds of soccer's World Cup by 2010 and win a major medal in sailing by 2008.

The sports industry is small, though, contributing only about 0.5 percent to the economy compared with up to 3.5 percent in some European countries. But the government expects to double revenues to S$1.4 billion by 2010. Under the state's multi-million-dollar award programme, athletes like Li have won more than S$400,000 since 1999. Individuals who win an Olympic gold medal get S$1 million, a silver gets S$500,000, and a bronze S$250,000.

Chinese-born athletes like ping pong player Li Jiawei, recruited at age 15 to supplement the small local talent pool, have become Singapore citizens. "I don't see many options that we have if we want to win medals but to import the young ones and groom them here," said political commentator Seah Chiang Nee, noting that this strategy had been applied broadly to economic development.

Experts agree that more can be done to deepen the industry, such as using ex-champions to train and motivate new athletes. "There must be successful Singapore sporting icons out there whom the general public can identify with and thus believe winning medals at high-level competitions can be achieved," said Jacqueline Lim, executive director of the Singapore Badminton Association. A successful icon to Lim means being able to "carve out a successful after-sports career".

The lack of a big commercial sponsorship failed to deter Kenneth Low from quitting school at 15 to pursue his dream of becoming an international tennis player. Low's parents paid his tuition at Florida's Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, famous for producing such top players as Andre Agassi and more recently Russian-born Maria Sharapova. "It's not common for Singaporeans to give up studies for sports. It's a long hard road, but it can be done," said Low, 16, who plays on the Asian junior circuit.

Golf in Singapore

Singapore hosts the HSBC Champions tournament for women. The Singapore Open is an Asian Tour golf tournament in Singapore which was founded in 1961.

The Singapore Open is a golf tournament in Singapore that has been sanctioned by the Asian Tour from that tour's inception in 1995 and by the European Tour since 2009. It was founded in 1961 and was staged annually until 2001, when it was won by Thaworn Wiratchant. It was then cancelled for lack of sponsorship. Other winners in the years leading up to this included American Shaun Micheel in 1998, who went on to win the 2003 PGA Championship. journal Wikipedia]

The Singapore Golf Association initially hoped to revive the event after skipping only one year, but the tournament was not resuscitated until 2005, when sponsorship was secured from the Sentosa Leisure Group. The 2005 prize fund was $2 million, which made the Singapore Open by far the richest tournament exclusive to the Asian Tour that was not co-sanctioned by the European Tour, a status it retained until the European Tour first co-sanctioned the event in 2009. Asian Tour chief executive Louis Martin claimed when the revival of the tournament was announced, "Competing for a prize purse of two million US dollars will give our playing membership a huge boost and elevate the Asian Tour to a new level." The 2005 event was played in September.

The 2006 Singapore Open offered a purse of US$3 million with a winner's share of US$475,000. In May 2006 it was announced that Barclays Bank would sponsor the event for five years from 2006 and that the prize fund will be increased to US$4 million in 2007 and US$5 million in 2008. In 2011, the purse was US$6,000,000.

Singapore Upset China 3-1 to Win Women’s Table Tennis World Championship

In 2010, Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Bei Bei of te Singapore women’s table tennis defeated giants China-3-1 at the World Team Table Tennis Championships final. It was the first time China didn’t win the gold medal in almost 30 years. Reuters reported: “Chinese fans were left in shock after their women paddlers failed to win the gold medal at the World Team Table Tennis Championships for the first time since 1991. The Chinese trio of Ding Ning, Liu Shiwen and Guo Yan fell to their Singaporean counterparts 3-1 in the final in Moscow on Sunday as the Southeast Asian city-state claimed their first title in the event. [Source: Reuters, May 31, 2010 /*\]

“Singapore team manager Eddy Tay said that the belief his trio of Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu and Sun Bei Bei had shown after losing the 2008 Olympic and World Championship finals to China was the key to victory. "A lot of times, when we met them in the finals we lost 3-0, 3-1. But we kept telling them (Singapore players) that one day, we should be able to beat them," Tay told Channel News Asia. "When we came out (for the medal ceremony), all of us were in tears and they were lost for words. They couldn't believe (they won)." /*\

“Both Ding and Liu had never played in the tournament and coach Shi Zhihao pinpointed that as the reason for China's surprise failure to win a ninth consecutive title. "We bring many young talents to Moscow. None of them has experience in playing in a tense final," Shi told state news agency Xinhua after the defeat. "In a sense, we lost to ourselves, to the immaturity. This is a lesson the youngsters must take in their career life." /*\

Colin Tung of Red Sports wrote: “The Singapore women’s team, which also comprises of Li Jiawei and Yu Mengyu, is ranked second in the world after China. They had raced to an early 2-0 lead in the final. In the opening singles match, Feng rallied from two sets down to win the next three sets to beat China’s world number 4, Ding Ning. Wang then followed up with a four-set victory over Liu Shiwen. However, in the third match, Sun Bei Bei lost to Guo Yan to set up Feng’s epic showdown with Liu Shiwen, the world number 1. [Source: Colin Tung, Red Sports, May 31, 2010 +++]

Although Liu had already lost one match in this fixture to Wang Yuegu, she would have still fancied her chances against Feng. The pair have had three previous meetings in world ranking events and Liu had won in all those encounters, the most recent of which came in March 2010 in the Volkswagen Cup final in Guangzhou. Feng, the world number 2, nevertheless overcame the odds to emerge as the star of the show, beating her nemesis in another five-setter to win Singapore’s maiden World Team Table Tennis Championship. +++

Olympic Ping Pong Saga Stirs up Controversy

The firing of Singapore’s table tennis manager over a loss in the finals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing leads to angry reactions against the Singaporean government. Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star: Singapore’s “first medal win in an Olympic Games in 48 years has produced a heated controversy that is rubbing off badly on the government. Singapore’s three women table tennis players, all naturalised, China-born citizens, lost to the Chinese in the finals in Beijing to win the team silver medal. But the fourth player, who is ranked 12th in the world for men, got the short end of the stick when it came to support and attention. While the attention of the team was riveted on the medal-winning women players, Singapore’s sole men’s representative, Gao Ning, went into battle without the support of a coach. The idea of a coach-less competitor in an Olympic tournament is inconceivable. Gao went down to a shocking 4-0 defeat to an unfancied player from Croatia. Alone, he wept afterwards. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, August 30, 2008]

“The fiasco started when a livid People’s Action Party MP chastised and sacked the team manager over national television without holding an inquiry. She not only fired the manager, Anthony Lee, without telling him but also hinted that the future status of the popular head coach was being considered. Many Singaporeans reacted angrily while players were upset – not by the idea of disciplining wrongdoers – but by the summary, arrogant way it was done. The MP, Lee Bee Wah, who hails from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s group constituency, was president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association, a post she assumed only a month earlier.

The issue attracted a deluge of letters – both on and offline – mostly condemning Lee’s “high-handedness”. Some Singaporeans, however, praised her for her speedy response to what was obviously a terrible dereliction of duty by officials or coaches. “I’m bruised,” Lee admitted but insisted she did no wrong. Her many detractors think differently, with some calling on her to resign as president of the table tennis body to take responsibility. “She should have waited for the team to return and carry out a proper investigation before taking action,” said a more polite critic. Other criticisms are stronger. “Her behaviour was a typical PAP representative – elitist, arrogant, overbearing. “Only a month into the job and knowing nothing about the sport, she acted as though she knew everything by firing people,” one fan said. It has also raised questions about the suitability of selecting scholars with no political acumen or articulation skills to stand in elections.

The Olympics ping-pong success also produced another controversy: should Singapore resort to the use of foreign talent to win medals. While the win has stirred a general sense of pride in this migrant society, whose people’s forefathers had also settled here from abroad, it was not shared by a large minority. “They were not true Singaporeans. It was like a China ‘A’ team versus China ‘B’ team,” said a fan.

Singaporean Speed Skater Aims for Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014

In 2010, Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “Terence Chew grew up in hot, humid Singapore, but his dreams are of ice -- and of making the team for the tiny equatorial nation's first ever bid to contest the Winter Olympics. Chew is an aspiring speed skater, aiming to fly to the flag with a fledgling team that Singapore is putting together for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The 23-year-old undergraduate, who is undergoing compulsory military service, trains several nights a week with the goal of topping 60 kilometres (37.3 miles) an hour -- twice as fast as his current best speed. "If you can discipline yourself to do something that you want to, there's always time for it. You have to make time for what you want," he told AFP. [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, October 9, 2010 ^*^]

“With a population of just 5.5 million — many of them foreigners —“ and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees all year, Singapore does not have a huge pool of winter sporting talent. What it does have is is plenty of money, thousands of young Singaporeans working and studying overseas and a government determined to use sport as an instrument of national pride. Singapore's dreams are reminiscent of the Disney film "Cool Runnings," based on the true story of sun-baked Jamaica's bobsled team and its comical but successful campaign to enter the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. ^*^

“Chew admitted that entering Sochi 2014 may seem like an impossible dream right now but added that the effort alone could be worth it. "It hopefully can inspire many other young people to come forward and say not just for Winter Olympics, not just for winter games or sports, but for anything that they want to do, that they continue to pursue their dreams." ^*^

“Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi 2014 organising committee, challenged Singapore in August to aim high. "Nothing is impossible for Singapore," local media quoted him as saying. "Qualifying for the Games is a feasible goal. Why not go for a miracle and have an Olympic medallist in 2014?" ^*^

“To get things going, Singapore is setting up a national sports association encompassing snowboarding and skiing. "I'm sure there are talented snowboarders and skiers amongst the Singaporeans living outside Singapore, including even some in Singapore," said Low Teo Ping, a veteran sports official spearheading the formation of the association. Low, who is vice-president of Singapore's National Olympic Council and head of the national rugby association, said the hot climate was just an inconvenience. "The world today is a lot smaller than what it used to be so people in Singapore also in fact travel distances to ski, to snowboard," he said. ^*^

“Besides snowboarding and skiing, the city-state is also hoping to nurture short-track speed skaters. The Singapore Ice Skating Association (SISA) organised a training camp and trial in September to identify local talent. Out of 80 participants, 14 athletes were scouted and sent to Changchun, China for a week-long training camp in September. ^*^

“In China, Singapore beat neighbouring Malaysia in a mini-competition, said SISA president Sonja Chong. "We now have a core of committed athletes that plan to train seriously," she said. "If we don't dream, we will never get there." A Canadian coach supervising the local trials, Yves Nadeau, said the country had potential in winter sports if it sustained the training programme. ^*^

“However, the Sochi 2014 team will have to wait two more years before Singapore gets its own 20,000 square foot (1,858 square metre) Olympic-size ice skating rink, which is to be part of a shopping mall. The current rink, also in a shopping centre, is just 10,500 square feet in size. Athletes compensate for this by doing more land-based exercises which concentrate on building up specific muscle groups used in speed skating, and going overseas to train on ice whenever possible. ^*^

Female Bodybuilding in Singapore

Revathi Murugappan wrote in The Star, “When Singaporean Joan Liew walks past, people gape and heads turn. Yes, she's attractive, has a presence and oozes sensuality. While she is feminine, she is unlike your typical waif-like model - her body ripples with muscle. When we step into the gym at Mandarin Oriental Hotel to take a few photographs, the male trainers cannot take their eyes off her. Others steal glances but Liew is oblivious to it all. "People stare all the time," shrugs the 33-year-old professional bodybuilder, flexing her biceps. "This sport is just an extension of my interest in the arts - to create an aesthetically beautiful body out of nothing. You are in control of your body, and, in time, you can create whatever body shape you want," she explains. [Source: Revathi Murugappan, The Star/Asia News Network, April 18, 2009]

It sure isn't easy for a woman to build muscles because of the lack of testosterone in the female body, and for that, people salute Liew, who clinched gold medals at the 2000, 2002 and 2006 Asian Women's Bodybuilding Championship. She also emerged seventh in the World Games in 2001 and competed in the World Amateur Championships in 2007.

Women tend to shy away from the sport because of the gender stereotypes. Hence, there is a dearth of female bodybuilders in Asia. Malaysia stopped promoting women's bodybuilding in 1989 because the National Sports Council doesn't encourage participation, due to the way participants are attired. "People have told me that I'm ugly, that I will never find a boyfriend, and what a waste since 'you have such a pretty face'. One fellow even asked me whether I was male or female," Liew sighs.

At age nine, Liew gravitated towards 'keep fit' books while her friends picked storybooks, At 15, she read her first Muscle and Fitness magazine and was hooked. She couldn't put the magazine down. While most youngsters would rejoice after their A-level examinations, Liew took a bus straight to the Bronze Gym and enrolled as a member. It was the gym where most high-performance athletes trained, and here, she became even more inspired by the beautiful bodies she saw.

After seven long years of training, Liew at 24 was ready for her first battle. She competed in the heavyweight category (58kg and above) of the Asian Women's Bodybuilding Championship in 2000. Although a nervous wreck, she relied on her mental strength to sail through. "I had been in the circuit and knew how much to push her to the next level. Being an Asian champion is only one benchmark, and I was confident she could win," says Lee.When they announced the winner's name, both were overjoyed. A new Asian champion was crowned. Liew's parents were happy, but said nothing.

Liew works out with weights two hours daily - three days are reserved for lower body workouts and four days for upper body. If she's invited to guest-pose at functions, she might spend 15 minutes exercising on the cardio machines for a week or two prior to the event. If she's entering a competition, Liew prepares six months ahead. She trims her weight down to 59kg (at other times, it's around 68kg) and brings her body fat level down to 10 percent. Once the body fat is too low, the ovaries (which need a certain amount of body fat in order to function properly) stop producing oestrogen and menstruation ceases temporarily. When she's not competing, Liew tries to maintain the figure between 15 percent and 16 percent.

During competition season, Liew adheres to a strict diet. Breakfast consists of five egg whites, three slices of whole meal toast with peanut butter or jam, and black coffee. The alternative is a protein shake with oatmeal, nuts and raisins. "If I'm hungry, I eat fruits because I have no time to snack," she offers. Lunch is lean meat and green leafy vegetables, rice without gravy, and Coke light. Later in the afternoon, she has a similar meal but cuts down on the rice. For dinner, it's fish or chicken and steamed veggies prepared by her mum.

Her trainer Augustine Lee and Liew have become business partners. In 2005, they opened Fitness Factory, a boutique gym cum fitness consultancy firm in the Boat Quay area. With over 200 clients, the duo is kept busy. The two also spent a year living in Malaysia to help set up the True Fitness gym in Sri Hartamas. Liew's day begins at 5.30am, and she may see up to 11 clients a day, leaving her exhausted with little time for anything else. "I've bought all these books on nutrition but hardly have time to read them. I don't take appointments on Sundays, so whatever errands I need to do are carried out then." By midnight, she retires. Hence, the idea of boyfriends has taken a backseat. The muscle building, though, is top priority in her life.

Kite Surfers Viewed as a Threat to Aviation in Singapore

In 2001, AFP reported: “Kite surfers in Singapore have had their wings clipped, albeit slightly, after authorities said they needed official approval for the sport. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said in separate statements that permission was needed because kite surfing can obstruct low flying aircraft and sea traffic. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 7, 2001]

"Under the Singapore Port Regulations, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has the authority to regulate sea activities, including sea sports and any organised sea activity," the maritime authority said. The aviation body said it will work together with its maritime counterpart to consider each request based on criteria such as the location and amount of sea space used. Kite surfers use large kites flying up to 30 metres (99 feet) in the air, to pull them through the water on their surfboards or wakeboards.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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