In 1966, Singapore Yachting Association was founded, with Jack Snowden as its first president. He actively promoted the involvement of Singaporeans in sea sports. However, the history of Singaporeans sailing dates back all the way to 1956, when members of the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, including Snowden, competed in the Melbourne Olympics.
For more than 20 years, Singapore’s sailors have achieved success at the SEA Games and Asian Games level, accumulating 21 Gold, 18 Silver and 17 Bronze medals between 1969 and 1993. Rising stars of the founding generation included Lock Hong Kit, Tan Tee Suan, Yeo See Teck and Ng Ser Miang (Vice-President of the Singapore National Olympic Council and member of the International Olympic Council).
Then came the significant milestone in Singapore’s history during the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, when Laser sailor Dr. Benedict Tan clinched sailing’s first Asian Games gold medal. It was Singapore’s only gold that year. Encouraged by his feat, we went on to pick up 2 more gold medals at the 1998 Games thanks to the 420 pairings of Joan Huang and Naomi Tan, and Siew Shaw Her and Colin Ng.
The success of sailing prompted the government to reward the sailing fraternity by building the National Sailing Centre (NSC) at East Coast Park. The venue provided fantastic sailing conditions throughout the year and heralded a new chapter for the sailing scene in Singapore. NSC was slated to be established as a base for Singaporeans to enjoy sailing as well as to produce international champions. The ground breaking ceremony in 1997 was officiated by Ng Ser Miang, then Chairman of the Singapore Sports Council.
NSC was officially opened by the Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1999, as a Centre of Excellence for sailing. In 2000 the Singapore Yachting Association adopted the name of Singapore Sailing Federation, also known as SingaporeSailing. This marked the beginning of the corporatising and professionalising of the sport in Singapore.
The National Optimist Sailing Scheme (NOSS), set up in 1987, actively roped in primary schools in the East Coast and Marine Parade area and devised structured sailing programmes for students with sailing as their Extra-Curricular Activity (ECA). In 1999, the rapidly growing Singapore Optimist Fleet formed a National Optimist Sailing Squad comprising 20 sailors and two coaches. This squad was to be reviewed every six months, and marked the start of a new era of sailing in Singapore where young talents were identified for intense training.
In 2001, the young generation of sailors were getting ready to be exposed to the international arena and 2002 saw us fielding a relatively young team in the Asian Games, with the average age of our sailors being half that of other countries. We returned with 4 bronze medals. Recognising that other strong sailing nations like China, Korea, Japan were gearing up for the Olympics, we had to “turbo-charge” our efforts.
Unveiled in early 2003, the High Performance Sailing Strategic plan formed the road map for Singapore’s Olympic quest. Teamwork was the essence of the blueprint and in 2004, Sinagpore launched “Power of One“, a conference that brought together all the stakeholders in Singapore’s sailing scene and sought to synergise efforts to help achieve Singapore’s lofty goals in sailing.
A few years after the implementation, the efforts began to bear fruit. Our sailors began to make an impact beyond Singapore’s shores. In May 2005, SingaporeSailing was awarded the ISO 9000 certification, bearing testimony to the now effectively operating strategic plan and efficient internal structure and processes of the Federation. It was the first such award for a national sports association not only in Singapore but worldwide. Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan commended SingaporeSailing for integrating talent, resources and systems into a winning recipe.
A performance watershed occurred in mid-2005. The 420 pair of Teo Wee Chin and Terence Koh won the ISAF Youth World Championships, the first Asian team to get the gold medal in the championship’s 35-year history. The regatta, regarded as the most prestigious event in the international sailing calendar after the Olympic Games, is hailed as the Olympic equivalent for youth. History shows that many Youth World Championship medallists go on to bag medals at the Olympic Games. Victory at such a high level signified the coming of age of sailing in Singapore, and sent the message that “we can be number one” to young sailors who had been training hard for many years.
The Youth World Championship triumph kicked off a string of top results for Singapore’s sailors in the later half of 2005. The new batch of Optimist sailors bagged both individual and team titles at the Asian Optimist Championships, and together with their more experienced seniors, achieved an unprecedented 7 gold medals at the SEA games in the Philippines.
The sailors maintained their good form into the new year and performed outstandingly to be the best team at the 2006 Asian Sailing Championships. Then in July, double victories in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions at the Byte and Laser 4.7 World Championships meant the crowning of four more champions.
The young Optimist sailors also proved their mettle by coming out tops at continental regattas like the IODA North and South American Championships and the IODA Asian Championships. At the end of the year, they also claimed 3 out of 4 titles at the Optimist World Championships.
It was the icing on the cake and topped off our spectacular medal haul at the Asian Games in Doha. We were not only the top sailing nation in Asia, but were well on our way to making our mark on the world stage; our sailors now undisputedly amongst the world’s best at the youth and junior sailing levels, and Singapore recognised as one of the hotbeds for sailing development worldwide!
Sailing has become synonymous with sports excellence in Singapore. Out of the 25 Singaporean athletes sent to the 2016 Rio Olympics, 10 of them were sailors, a record-breaking amount – never in our young history have so many sailors competed in the biggest stage of sporting competition. But more importantly, sailors have inspired others in their wake.
The Singapore Sailing Team has since garnered more world titles and podium finishes at the ISAF Youth Worlds and other international events and some of these sailors have since embarked on Olympic campaigns towards Tokyo 2020.
Having come so far, SingaporeSailing is now striving towards the next challenge – an Olympic medal for Singapore. And in doing so, bringing Singaporeans along the sailing journey and inspiring the nation.