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8th ASEAN Para Games - Celebrating the Extraordinary

The 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) was held in Singapore for the first time, and what an impression it made!

For some it was the dazzling performances at the opening ceremony, for others the surprise appearance of international icon and English footballer David Beckham, but for many, it would be the inspirational stories told by the para-athletes, not in strings of words but in overcoming the curveballs that life threw at them.

Who can forget the gritty performances of the Cerebral Palsy football team led by Captain Khairul Anwar? On the opening day Singapore edged past Indonesia at the National Stadium when Khairul scored in the dying minutes of the game with a long-range shot that just beat the Indonesian keeper. That was a foretaste of what was to come. The team went on to clinch a bronze medal while Khairul earned himself the moniker of Singapore’s David Beckham for his goals from long range, including a hat-trick against Myanmar.

Who can overlook the determined effort of paddler Jason Chee who led the men’s team to victory in the T1-2 class after a nail-biting finish against Thailand’s Thinathet Natthawutong barely three years after a tragic accident left him with only one functioning arm and three good fingers? The home crowd roared. They rose to their feet to salute Chee and his teammates for Singapore’s first APG gold in table tennis.

The list of inspiring stories is lengthy. We remember Thai swimmer Anchaya Ketkeaw who overcame grave odds in her formative years to be a winner, scoring gold in all seven events she competed in, and Filipino swimming sensation Ernie Gawilan who secured gold in the Men’s 400-metre freestyle and earned himself a ticket to the Rio Paralympic Games, making him the first Filipino para swimmer to qualify for the Paralympics.

But the APG was not only about winning and sporting excellence. It was about resilience, as epitomised by Malaysian swimmer Yeo Yi Lin, who nearly collapsed from giddy spells moments before her 400-metre freestyle. Rather than quit, she picked herself up and carried on. Though she came in last in the race, she won the biggest applause at the OCBC Aquatic Centre that night with her never-say-die attitude.

The APG was also about friendship in action. So often during the wheelchair basketball matches, players would help their opponents to recover their balance before getting back into the game.

What made the 8th APG especially special was the overwhelming support it enjoyed – from the legions of Team Nila volunteers who worked long and hard behind the scenes to ensure that the Games ran without a hitch, to the larger local and foreign community in Singapore, who turned up to watch and cheer.

Ace Performance by Team Singapore
Some 1,200 athletes from 10 ASEAN countries participated in 15 sports at the APG, the most number of sports offered in its history. Host Singapore fielded its biggest contingent of 152, participating in all 15 sports.

For the first time Singapore competed in Archery, Five-a-Side Football, Goalball and powerlifting. The oldest, sailor Anthony Teo was 71 while the youngest Team Singapore athlete was 15-year-old Muhammad Haziq Ibrahim.

Team Singapore exceeded expectations by winning a total of 63 medals (24 gold, 17 silver, 22 bronze) in 10 sports and was placed fifth in the medals’ table. Seven Games records were broken, all in swimming, including the S2 50-metre backstroke world record by Yip Pin Xiu in the 50-metre backstroke S5 final with a time of 1 minute 1.61 seconds. Her performance was even more remarkable as the S2 swimmer had to face off competitors with greater mobility than her in an S5 race.

Debutants accounted for a sizeable 60% of the contingent, and they did Singapore proud when they helped clinched 22 medals.

Rounding Up a Major Year for Singapore Sports
Singaporeans embraced the APG in a manner few had imagined. In total, over 124,000 spectators showed up at the nine venues to watch the Games and cheer for the athletes, and the atmosphere was simply electrifying. Many more followed it online. The official ASEAN Para Games YouTube channel had some 4.2 million views.

The APG Carnival at the Singapore Sports Hub held in conjunction with the games drew over 634,000 visitors, who dropped in at the Carnival to learn at first hand about para sports and the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in fun and engaging ways. As it was the schools’ long vacation, many were students.

For Chef de Mission, Raja Singh, who had been to many ASEAN Para Games, “the crowd at this APG is even more than all the rest”.

The Games left a lasting legacy. Seeing at first hand the power of para-sports in changing lives of para-athletes and changing perceptions of all who come into contact with them, Singapore is forging ahead to improve the disability sports eco-system so that many more can benefit from participation at the competitive level as well as for recreation.

What better way to end a year of jubilee celebrations for Singapore than through sports!