SINGAPORE — Since the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP Games) – the first incarnation of the SEA Games – was inaugurated in 1959, Singapore have participated in every edition of the biennial regional sports extravaganza.
Over its 60 years of participation, the Republic has seen its share of outstanding athletes. Some dominated their sports, while others were trailblazers in less-popular sports. Here are the top-performing Singapore athletes in their respective sports at the SEA Games:
Archery: Sam Tan
Archery has not been a regular medalling sport for Singapore, despite being introduced into the Games programme since 1977. There were only three gold medals won by the Republic in the sport, and two of them came from Sam Tan during the 1983 Games, which was held in Singapore. Tan won in the individual women’s 70m and the individual overall events.
Athletics: C. Kunalan, James Wong, Zhang Guirong
C. Kunalan was Singapore’s greatest sprinter, winning four golds, four silvers and two bronzes from 1969 to 1977. His peak was at the 1969 Games in Myanmar, where he dazzled with three gold-medal triumphs in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m.
While Kunalan shone for one brief Games, Wong and Zhang were metronomic in winning their respective disciplines for more than a decade. Wong was nearly unbeatable in men’s discus, winning nine golds from 1993 to 2011 and even adding a hammer throw gold in 1997, just because he could.
Wong’s total medal tally of 10 golds, four silvers and two bronzes is unrivalled among Singapore track and field athletes. Zhang does run him close, as she won seven golds, three silvers and four bronzes in women’s shot put, javelin and discus events from 2003 to 2015.
Badminton: Wong Shoon Keat, Fu Mingtian, 2003 women’s team
While badminton is a popular sport in Singapore, local shuttlers face stiff competition at the SEA Games, with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand regularly producing world-class players. So gold medals were extremely hard-won in this competition.
Kudos then to Wong Shoon Keat (1983 men’s singles), Fu Mingtian (2011 women’s singles) and the 2003 women’s team (Li Li, Xiao Luxi, Jiang Yanmei, Liu Fan, Tan Li Si) for earning top badminton honours at the Games.
Billiards & Snooker: Peter Gilchrist
Another popular sport which regularly reaps medals at the Games, but it was not until Peter Gilchrist became a citizen in 2006 that the sport saw a dominant Singaporean athlete at the billiards table. The England-born former world billiards champion swept to six golds, one silver and seven bronzes in just six Games editions.
Bodybuilding: Ibrahim Sihat, Azman Abdullah
Bodybuilding has been a successful sport for Singapore in the late 1980s and the 1990s, even though it was not a regular part of the Games programme. There were several top Singapore bodybuilders: Fatholomein Ali, Ismail Muhammad and Simon Chua all won three golds in different Games editions.
Azman Abdullah, another three-time gold medallist, went on to clinch the prestigious Mr Universe title in 1993 and was named as Singapore’s Sportsman of the Year in 1992 and 1993.
But there was only one bodybuilder with four SEA Games golds to his name: Ibrahim Sihat, who won his first gold in 1987 and his fourth and final gold 18 years later at the age of 48 – a testament to his longevity and dedication to his sport.
Bowling: Grace Young, Sam Goh, Cherie Tan
Since the 1970s, Singapore bowlers have clinched 58 gold medals at the SEA Games, making the sport one of the regular “goldmines” for the Republic. Over the years, bowlers like Henry Tan, Adelene Wee, Grace Young, Jack Wong and Remy Ong ably led the Singapore team’s quests for gold.
But the most be-medalled Singapore bowler at the Games is Sam Goh, a quiet and unassuming presence who provided a steady stream of medals from 1987 to 1999 – 16 of them (four golds, seven silvers and five bronzes). Young is not far behind with 14 medals from 1987 to 1995, although seven of her medals were golds.
Watch out for Cherie Tan though. She already has 10 medals (five golds and five silvers) in just three Games editions, and the 31-year-old is not done yet.
Boxing: Syed Abdul Kadir
While boxing was featured in every SEA Games edition, there were only four Singaporean boxers who won gold: Ow Mun Hong (1959), Syed Abdul Kadir (1971), Cyril Jeeris (1973) and Mohammed Mukhils (1985).
Of the quartet, Syed Abdul Kadir is probably the most successful, having also represented Singapore at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He later became national coach, and also opened his own boxing school.
Canoeing: Geraldine Lee, Stephenie Chen
Singapore became a canoeing powerhouse this decade, winning all its 11 golds in three Games editions (2011, 2013, 2015). Leading the gold-medal charge is Stephenie Chen with five, while Geraldine Lee has the most medals with 10 (two golds, five silvers, three bronzes).
Cycling: Dinah Chan
Dinah Chan finally broke through after three bronzes in the 2009 and 2011 Games to win the gold in the women’s 20km/30km individual time trial in 2013. More remarkably, she had recovered from injuries sustained in a cycling accident mere months before her golden feat. She added one more bronze medal in 2015 to tie Kenneth Tan as Singapore’s most be-medalled cyclist at the Games.
Diving: Nora Tay
Nora Tay came from a family of top aquatics athletes: brother Winston Tay was in the 1967 gold-winning waterpolo team, while sisters Molly and Chin Joo were multiple SEAP Games gold-medallists in swimming from 1965 to 1971.
Unlike her siblings, Nora chose diving as her aquatic sport, and immediately clinched gold on her Games debut in 1965 in the women’s springboard diving (required dives) event. She earned her second gold in 1971, also in the springboard event, and finished her career with two golds and three silvers from the Games.
Equestrian: Peter Abisheganaden
The son of Singapore’s Cultural Medallion winner Alex, and brother of singer/actress Jacintha, Peter Abisheganaden was an accomplished equestrian rider who clinched three golds and one bronze at the SEA Games, with two of them coming in 1983 when Singapore hosted the Games. He is currently the managing director of Zack’s Tack polo and equestrian apparel shop.
Fencing: Lau Ywen, Amita Berthier
Of the 71 fencing medals Singapore won at the Games, only eight were gold. Four of the eight golds were individual golds – and two of them came at the last SEA Games via Lau Ywen (women’s individual sabre) and Amita Berthier (women’s individual foil). The two 18-year-olds look primed for successful careers in the sport – and hopefully more top honours at the Games.
Field hockey: 1973 men’s team, 1993 women’s team
A sport dominated by Malaysia since it was first introduced in 1971, Singapore has found it hard to break its neighbour’s stranglehold despite regularly sending teams to compete. They succeeded just twice – and on both one occasions, they triumphed on home soil. The 1973 men’s team stunned the Malaysians in the final – the only time Malaysia were beaten in the men’s competition.
The Singapore women’s team then emulated their men’s counterparts when Singapore hosted the Games in 1993. Again they beat Malaysia, this time in a nail-biting penalty flicks shootout, winning 4-3 at the Delta Sports Complex.
Gymnastics: Lim Heem Wei, Nicole and Tabitha Tay
Singapore artistic gymnastics’ golden generation arrived in the 2000s, when the likes of Lim Heem Wei and sisters Nicole and Tabitha Tay earned the first golds in the sport for the Republic. The trio led the women’s team to golds in 2005 and 2007, with the Tay sisters adding two individual golds each. Lim stayed on for the 2011 Games, and duly led a new women’s team to gold in Palembang.
Judo: Ho Yen Chye
Ho Yen Chye is the most be-medalled Singapore judoka at the Games, garnering one gold (1987), five silvers and a bronze from 1983 to 1991. He also represented Singapore at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Netball: 2015 team
While netball is a popular sport in Singapore, it was included as a SEA Games sport only in 2001, 2015, 2017 and this year. Singapore and Malaysia are the powerhouses in the region, and Malaysia won the golds in the two Games which it hosted.
Similarly in 2015, when Singapore hosted the Games, the national netball team clinched a memorable gold at the OCBC Arena, edging Malaysia 46-43 in front of a raucous crowd.
Pencak Silat: Sheik Alau’ddin
Since the martial art was introduced at the SEA Games in 1987, Singapore has enjoyed a steady stream of medals from the sport. Of all the silat exponents who have earned honours at the Games, one person stood tallest: Sheik Alau’ddin, winner of three golds and two silvers in the 1990s.
Sheik’s influence did not end after his triumphs, as his sons Sheik Farhan and Sheik Ferdous, as well as his daughter Nur Shafiqa, continue to bring in honours for Singapore in recent Games.
Rowing: Saiyidah Aisyah
In a sport that struggles perennially for mainstream acceptance, the ever-cheerful Saiyidah Aisyah lit up the 2013 Games with a stunning gold medal in the women’s lightweight single sculls race. She earned five more bronzes in subsequent editions, and became Singapore’s first rower at the Olympics, participating in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Sailing: Benedict Tan
One of the key sports for Singapore, sailing – or yachting as it was known until 1987 – has produced plenty of gold-winning sailors who later went on to achieve greater heights at the Asian and Olympic Games: Kelly Chan, Siew Shaw Her, Joan Huang, to name a few.
Arguably the best known sailor is Benedict Tan, who swept to four SEA Games golds in the Laser sailing class from 1989 to 1995, and became the first Singapore sailor to win gold at the Asian Games, achieving it in Hiroshima in 1994. Tan also represented Singapore at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and will be Team Singapore’s chef de mission at next year’s Tokyo Games.
Shooting: Lee Wung Yew, Jasmine Ser, Gai Bin
Another perennial goldmine for Singapore, national shooters have won 62 golds since 1961. And 13 of them – or 21 per cent of the golds won – came from a single athlete: Lee Wung Yew.
The trap shooter was a reliable winner in both individual and team events, and his peak came at the 1997 Jakarta Games, where he clinched four golds (individual and team golds in both trap and double-trap categories). In total, he earned 13 golds, four silvers and two bronzes from 1987 to 2007.
When the rifle and pistol disciplines were introduced in the sport in the 2000s, it proved to be a boon for Singapore, as more shooters were able to earn honours. Jasmine Ser (rifle) and Gai Bin (pistol) have each garnered four golds for the Republic in these new disciplines.
Squash: Peter Hill, Mah Li Lian
A sport that enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s and the 1990s, Singapore was the pre-eminent nation in the region before the sport waned in popularity. Peter Hill and Mah Li Lian, together with Zainal Abidin, were the top players in that period. Hill earned two individual and three team golds for Singapore from 1991 to 1995, while Mah did the same in the women’s division.
Swimming – Men: Tan Thuan Heng, Ang Peng Siong, Joseph Schooling
Swimming – Women: Patricia Chan, Junie Sng, Joscelin Yeo
With a staggering 835 medals won – 355 of them golds – this is without a doubt Singapore’s strongest and most successful sport at the SEA Games. There are so many regional “Swim Kings” and “Swim Queens” produced throughout every decade, and many of them went on to produce even greater achievements on bigger stages.
Arguably the first Swim King was Tan Thuan Heng, Singapore’s first Sportsman of the Year in 1967. From 1961 to 1975, the freestyle specialist plundered 22 golds, nine silvers and a bronze at the SEA Games, including five victories in the 100m freestyle.
Then in the early 1980s, Ang Peng Siong emerged as brightest heir to the Swim King throne. Besides winning 18 golds, five silvers and two bronzes from 1979 to 1993, he is best known for being a one-time world-record holder, after clocking 22.69 seconds in the 50m freestyle in 1982.
However, the two former Swim Kings are likely to be outdone by the current king, Joseph Schooling, by the time the 24-year-old is done with his swim career.
Already, he has achieved the greatest sporting feat by a Singaporean, in winning the men’s 100m butterfly Olympic gold – Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold – in 2016. Along the way, he has also won 23 golds, one silver and one bronze at the SEA Games – leaving his regional rivals in the dust amid his dominance.
Yet, any talk of dominance in the swim pool must end with the Singapore women swimmers, who have virtually owned the pool throughout the history of the SEA Games. They are also by far the most be-medalled athletes that Singapore has seen.
Start with Patricia Chan, the first, and possibly greatest, Swim Queen. Born in a swimming family – which includes dad and swim coach Chan Ah Kow, as well as brothers Alex, Roy and Mark – she reigned from 1965 to 1973, winning every race she took part in for a staggering 39-gold haul, including 10 golds each at the 1967 and 1969 Games.
It was an incredible achievement as Chan was deservedly dubbed the Golden Girl, and she ended her swimming career in style when she clinched six golds in 1973, when Singapore hosted the SEA Games for the first time.
Yet the next Swim Queen was already in the wings, as Junie Sng took over the mantle in 1975, beginning a five-Games run that saw her winning 28 golds, six silvers and one bronze – a magnificent achievement considering that she raced in the gruelling 400m and 800m freestyle events.
She also became the first female Singaporean swimmer to win gold at the Asian Games, clinching two golds in the 400m and 800m freestyle in the 1978 Bangkok edition.
Coincidentally, Sng ended her career when Singapore next hosted the Games in 1983, and she outdid Chan in her swansong with a perfect 10 golds out of 10. Amazingly, she was just 19 years old when she retired from the sport.
Singapore had to wait until 1991 before the next Swim Queen emerged, and Joscelin Yeo did not disappoint. Probably Singapore’s best all-around swimmer – adept in any of the four swim strokes – Yeo kept winning and winning through eight SEA Games editions. By the time she was done in 2005, she had broken Chan’s 39-gold record, and become Singapore’s most be-medalled athlete of all time.
Her final tally is 40 golds, 15 silvers and seven bronzes – 62 medals in all. Can Schooling outdo this near-untouchable record? He is 37 medals behind.
Synchronised swimming: Debbie Soh
A blossoming sport for Singapore as its athletes shone at the 2017 SEA Games, winning three golds, two silvers and two bronzes in a superb harvest. And Debbie Soh was involved in all three golds, as she won the solo free routine, the duet technical routine with Miya Yong, and the team free routine with the Singapore team.
Table tennis: Li Jiawei, Gao Ning
After swimming (835 medals) and shooting (242 medals), table tennis is the third-best sport in winning SEA Games medals for Singapore, with 188. Yet it remains a controversial sport despite its success, with detractors citing its over-reliance on China-born paddlers to gain glory since the 1990s.
The influx of these paddlers began with Jing Junhong, with the Shanghai-born paddler becoming a naturalised citizen after marrying Singapore paddler Loy Soo Han. But it was when Singapore introduced the Foreign Sport Talent Scheme in the mid-1990s that table tennis handed citizenships to two of its best paddlers: Li Jiawei and Gao Ning.
Li, an aggressive shot-maker, dominated women’s table tennis in the region from 1999 to 2007, winning 13 golds, three silvers and two bronzes. In the men’s side, Gao Ning was equally prolific, winning 11 golds, five silvers and one bronze from 2007 to 2017.
Taekwondo: Wong Liang Ming
Taekwondo was introduced into the SEA Games in 1985, and Singapore began winning medals in the sport from 1987. Its best period was from 1989 to 1995, when it earned 10 golds – and four of them came from a scrawny but determined woman, Wong Liang Ming, as she dominated the flyweight division with victories in 1987, 1989, 1993 and 1995.
Wong later served as national coach and in the executive committee of the Singapore Taekwondo Federation for more than 20 years, but stepped away from the sport in controversial fashion this year following a dispute with the national athletes.
Water polo: Men’s team (1965-2017)
The only team sport which Singapore are regular gold medallists – and they dominate in unprecedented fashion. Since water polo was introduced at the Games in 1965, the Singapore men’s team have won gold in every edition – a total of 27 golds in 27 Games. Like Joscelin Yeo’s medal record, this is a feat of sustained excellence that is unlikely to be replicated at the SEA Games.
Wakeboarding: Sasha Christian
Wakeboarding and waterskiing became regular sports on the Games programme this decade, and Sasha Christian has emerged as the top female wakeboarder in the region, with five golds, four silvers and a bronze from three Games editions.
Most impressively for the professional wakeboarder, she has bounced back to tough injury setbacks such as a partial knee ligament tear and a fractured leg to remain top of her game.
Weightlifting: Tan Howe Liang, Chua Koon Siong
A sport that saw better days in Singapore, it used to be a regular medal-winning sport from the first Games in 1959 all the way to the 1990s. The most famous weightlifter is surely Tan Howe Liang, who was the first Singaporean athlete to ever win an Olympic medal, achieving that feat with a silver medal at the 1960 Rome Games.
While Tan also clinched two gold medals at the SEA Games, he is eclipsed by Chua Koon Siong, who won three consecutive golds in the featherweight division from 1975 to 1979.
Wushu: Chiew Hui Yan, Vincent Ng
Wushu has steadily provided medal winners for Singapore since the 1990s, but it had its best moment when Singapore hosted the Games in 1993 as the wushu exponents enjoyed a great haul of seven golds, six silvers and five bronzes.
Of those who featured at the 1993 Games, Chiew Hui Yan and Vincent Ng shone brightest. Chiew earned two golds (women’s sword and women’s spear) and a silver (women’s changquan), while Ng – who became a well-known actor after his wushu career – clinched a gold (men’s changquan) and two silvers (men’s sword and men’s cudgel).