Finally, the 48 year-old drought is over. After Singapore's female table tennis team who comprises of Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu and Feng Tianwei, beat South Korea in the semi-finals today, Singapore will be assured with at least a silver medal. The team will be facing either Hong Kong or China (depending on the outcome of their semi-final match) on this coming Sunday.
What's the big deal?
Singapore last scored in Olympics in the 1960's Games held in Rome. Weightlifter Tan Howe Liang brought back a silver medal and have been a beacon of hope for aspiring Singaporean athletes ever since.
With only 4.3 million inhabitants and out of which only around 2 million are citizens, the odds of doing well in the international sports arena is never on our side. In fact, our sports teams have struggled even in regional competitions with the likes of Indonesia and Thailand dominating the scene.
Li Jiawei missed clinching a bronze medal after crashing out in fight for 3rd & 4th placing against South Korea's Kim Kyung Ah. I recalled that watching the match with my family and we were stunned when Li lost the game point. That was our closest chance ever of securing a medal.
If you've not noticed already, the entire women tennis team (its coach inclusive) is imported directly from China, the sporting powerhouse. The original premise was to bring in accomplished players who weren't given a chance to compete in their native country due to intense competition and hopefully, these naturalized citizens will help nurture local players.
However, it seemed that local players have some difficulty matching up to these 'foreign imports'. In fact, other than table tennis, Singapore have been actively importing athletes for other sports as well (i.e. badminton, athletics). As a result, there have been some grumblings that it will be meaningless even if these athletes win medals.
I beg to differ. London would never maintain her position as a financial hub if not for its open policy towards foreign expertise. Likewise, United States would never have been an economic (and thus military) superpower if not for her liberal immigration policy.
Singapore, which has just celebrated its 43rd birthday, is a relatively young state. Do we seriously think that we can still be relevant in the following decades if we maintain a strict immigration/labor policy?
Having said that, I do hope that the success today will provide the motivation for potential medalists in the future. Let's not wait for another 48 years.