After 22 years, the SEA Games (5-16 June) is finally back in Singapore. Don’t know why it took so long but better late than never again, say what. Last Saturday, watching the opening ceremony full dress rehearsal at the new Singapore Sports Hub certainly brought back lovely memories of the 1993 SEA Games, the last one on home soil. Working at the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now MediaCorp), I was fortunate enough to be assigned with the production team covering Athletics at the old iconic National Stadium.
Of course, being a football fan, I would rather be covering football but then again, so did dozens of other football-mad colleagues. In the end, the #1 favourite sport in Singapore was left to the station’s experienced sports crew while non-sports production people such as we from Current Affairs were assigned to “safer” coverage where simple mistakes were not easily picked on…Working with a veteran German sports producer, a super efficient assistant producer from England, and various local studio and camera crew – sincere apologies as I can’t recall any names 22 years later (I was only 5 then, ahem…) – we were stationed outside the National Stadium in a small broadcasting van (pictured above) for the duration of the two-week Games, covering everything track and field.JAMES THE GOLD DISCUS MAN
Now, back then, Singapore’s athletics sucked big time. especially in the ’80s after some glory days in the ’70s. So we at the National Stadium were simply going through the motions watching the likes of Malaysia and Indonesia sweeping gold after gold. Then cometh the moment, cometh the man…
Up stepped the mighty James Wong, then 24, doing his bit at the Discus. We had hope for this lad who tried so hard to get sponsorship to train and study in the United States, while the Singapore swimmers practically have “study money” given to them on a platter. With a heave and a ho, he struck Athletics Gold for Singapore, the first one in yons. A mere 20-odd supporters cheered him inside the stadium including his mum and his then girlfriend (now his wife) while, unbeknownst to James, a 10-man TV production crew was yelling themselves hoarse at his achievement in a compact van outside the stadium. There weren’t any government officials or sports council folks on hand to congratulate James immediately as most were either at the swimming arena (as swimming was Singapore’s golden goose then) or at the weightlifting venue (yes, those were the days).
Well, James Wong stole our hearts and he continued to do so for the next two decades, winning consecutive SEA Games discus golds from 1993 to 2005, including a discus-hammer double in 1997, and then again in 2009 and 2011, after a brief retirement.
Bless you, James.
Yup, really loved my SEA Games stint, the only sports assignment in my 10-year television career, so much so that I still have the production vest (above) and in good condition it is too! (The T-shirt is packed somewhere, I’m sure of it..) Next to my specially-minted 1993 SEA Games stamps and matchboxes, it’s among my treasured items of all-time.
Though the 28th SEA Games opening ceremony is on Friday June 5, Singapore has already won two golds through table tennis (some events started early). Unlike 1993, we are likely to do much better this time in a wider selection of sports and most importantly with young homegrown talents. I’m not holding my breath for the Singapore Under-23s in football, but I think we will do remarkably well in shooting, sailing, and of course swimming. (Update: SG just won its first ever golds in synchronised swimming and fencing, woo-hoo!)
Do catch a SEA Games sport or two if you could from now till 16 June – some are ticketed, some are free (check papers or the official website @ www.seagames2015.com for details). ‘Cos it will take another decade or so before it return to our shores again!
All Photos by Marguerita Tan Photography 2015. No text or images are to be used without permission from the blog author.