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Time to scale peaks beyond SEA Games

THE rah-rah about Singapore's Southeast Asian Games overall showing is deafening, underpinned by the glut of gold medals that gushed our way every day of the two-week event.

In the end, when Team Singapore finished wth the best-ever "away" medal haul, there was further high-fiving as the nation stood proud in fourth place on the 11-team table, just one gold medal shy of finishing in third.

The success in the pool, the table tennis tenacity, bowling bonanza, cue sports coup, squash sensation, wakeboard/waterski wonders and sailing supremacy contributed to 40 of the 57 golds, just one short of Vietnam who came in third behind hosts Malaysia (145) and Thailand (72).

The previous 'away ' best was the collection of 43 golds from the 2007 Games in Korat, Thailand.

No doubt, Singapore sent away the largest-ever contingent of 560 athletes to KL in the 58-year history of the Games which is all about sportingy rivalry, good gamesmanship and a unifying vehicle that strengthens the Asean spirit and bond.

So while we revel in the buoyant mood, especially in the brilliance of our teenage athletes such as swimmer Quah Jing Wen, bowler Cheah Ray Han, wushu exponent Jowen Lim, shooter Martina Veloso, and fencer Amita Berthier, alongside heavyweights Joseph Schooling, Quah Ting Wen, Quah Zheng Wen, Feng Tianwei and Sheik Farhan, let us temper our best outcome on foreign soil with a modicum of perspective.

Singapore was fortunate that the Malaysian calendar of events was stuffed with many sports in which we have always excelled.

Medal counts alone can misguide, as in the case of the 1987 Games in Jakarta where Indonesia made a clean sweep of all 20 golds in the not-so- popular sport of wrestling for a record 183-gold boast.

The post-Games chest-thumping has seen many athletes and officials wallowing in expressions of performing well on the continental stage, with direct reference to next year's Asian Games to be staged in Indonesia.

Overwhelmed by joy and emotion, there were also whispers of taking on not just the continent but also the world in some sports.

But, with the exception of Olympic swimming gold medallist Schooling, no-one came close to Asiad aspirations in any of the 40 sports and global dreams were a distant memory.

Bigger stage

No doubt, with the emphasis of winning gold and medalling, in some sports our athletes did not have to push themselves beyond personal barriers for better times and distances, so the potential was there for stronger displays.

So there is room for improvement, and this is the area where Sport Singapore and the national sports associations (NSAs) should place their focus on if they want our athletes to perform on bigger stage.

Post-mortems are a natural phenomenon after every Games, and in this respect some NSAs should be taken to task for less than impressive showings.

Track and field tops that chart of "also-rans" with a poor return of two gold medals from 46 events, the infighting and controversies prior to the Games causing some disruption to athletes' preparations and affecting morale.

Men's hockey's bronze - having played second fiddle to Malaysia for years at the Games - although losing the silver on goal difference to Myanmar is just not acceptable, another blank for football is a disgrace and the off-target by our archers is pathetic.

A bunch of other "holiday-makers", from sports such as basketball, ice hockey, karate, muay thai and petanque could not find the podium; while badminton, boxing, judo, open water, taekwondo, tennis and triathlon could only collect bronzes.

In contrast, water polo's extended streak of sheer dominance, cricket's phenomenal final victory over Malaysia, golf's breakthrough "ace" after 28 years and the drama behind high jumper Michelle Sng's gold medal, a first, are highly commendable.

Recriminations and remonstrations are in order for the laggards, but my advice to local sport's bigwigs is that we should focus on and fully back the highly-acclaimed performers with a view to Singapore scaling the peaks beyond the SEA Games.