15 September 2010

Singapore Sports Council's target in Rio 2016

6 medals in 2016@Straits Times

TWO years after the breakthrough in Beijing, the country's sports authorities are dreaming big - a clutch of medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Singapore Sports Council (SSC) has set an ambitious target of bringing back six medals of any colour, a notion Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck called 'bold, but achievable'.

The announcement was met by scepticism among some in the sports fraternity, considering that the women table tennis team's silver at the 2008 Beijing Games was the Republic's first Olympic medal in 48 years.

But Bob Gambardella, the SSC's chief of sports development and head of the sports institute, said it is not a target 'pulled out of the sky'.

'We looked at similar-sized countries like New Zealand and Croatia, and used a predictive table that I had from my time at the United States Olympic Committee,' he said at a press conference that was also attended by Mr Teo yesterday.

Both New Zealand and Croatia have won numerous Olympic medals despite having a population similar to Singapore's five million.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, using athletes' past performances, the American predicted 20 medals in the 11 sports under his charge. The eventual haul was 19.

Gambardella, who came to Singapore a year ago after more than a decade holding various positions within the USOC, is eyeing one to two medals at the next Olympics in 2012 in London.

These will likely come from the women paddlers led by Feng Tianwei. Singapore Table Tennis Association president Lee Bee Wah had previously targeted two medals for 2012, and another two at the following Olympics.

'It's ambitious but funding is the most crucial element, we'll need at least a million dollars more,' she said yesterday. Her association was allocated over $1.5 million in government grants for the financial year 2010.

The Olympic medal burden is also expected to be shouldered by athletes from shooting (such as Jasmine Ser), sailing (Darren Choy) and swimming (Tao Li, Quah Ting Wen and Rainer Ng).

Part of the optimism among sports officials in setting the six-medal target stems from Singapore's two silvers and four bronzes at last month's Youth Olympic Games.

Members of Parliament have also tabled questions for today's sitting on what will be done to groom YOG athletes for further success.

The Straits Times understands that sports administrators have drawn up a preliminary shortlist of 15 of them, earmarking them as having strong potential to win at the highest levels, including the 2016 Olympics.

They include Darren, and YOG silver medallists Isabelle Li (table tennis) and Rainer. All are aged between 14 and 18.

Still, except for the women paddlers who upset China to take the world championship crown in May, the other three sports have not proven themselves at the Olympic level.

But SSC chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik said in response to potential detractors: 'It's high time we stopped saying that we're going to major Games just for the experience.

'If we keep doing that, then the question is when are the athletes ready to win?'

The former swimmer, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, pointed to Singapore's record medal hauls at recent multi-sport events - the 2005 Manila South-east Asia Games (except as hosts) and 2006 Doha Asian Games.

'Our athletes have shown that they can compete at not just the regional level, but on the global stage,' Oon added.

The new Sports Institute to be set up at the Sports Hub and ready in four years' time will be crucial to the 2016 plan.

It will provide sports science, sports medicine and other forms of support, following loosely models of similar facilities in Australia, the United States and Japan.

'To borrow a phrase from (former sailing president) Low Teo Ping, the pipeline is our lifeline,' said Oon.

On winning a medal in the pool in 2016, former Olympian and swim coach David Lim said: 'It's going to be twice as tough as in the YOG. The field is so much stronger at the Summer Olympics.

'Setting targets is fine, but from now until 2016, the authorities need to do everything in their power to prepare these athletes.'

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