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In Singapore, an Olympic fourth place will do

By Super

Sydney: Fourth place may not be every Olympic team's cause for celebration, but for Singapore it was the best performance in 40 years.

And, at least for some Singaporeans, it was a sign that an Olympic gold for the sports-mad city-state is only a matter of time.

Singapore were officially not expecting to take home any medals from the Sydney Olympics, but Chinese-born table tennis player Jing Jun Hong suddenly raised hopes beyond improved personal bests and new national records.

In the end, Jing, ranked 31st in the world, had to settle for fourth place behind the top seeds from China and Taiwan, and the country's best hope, US-based swimmer Joscelin Yeo, a multiple national record-holder, failed to make waves in the pool.

But Eric Song, deputy chef de mission, said Singapore should not be disappointed with their overall performance.

"Coming fourth for Singapore was good," he told Reuters. "To fight for a medal after such a long time was something great for us," he said. "We achieved more than we set out to do."

Singapore's government has set actual targets for sporting success -- an Olympic medal soon, a gold medal in sailing by 2008, and qualification for World Cup soccer.

But mostly their Olympic team was supposed to improve on Atlanta 1996. Jing's fourth place in table tennis was acclaimed as the best they have done at an Olympics since weightlifter Tan Howe Liang's surprise silver in Rome in 1960.

Song agreed the team had been looking to do better in swimming, with hopes for a big performance in five events from Yeo, who carried Singapore's flag at the opening ceremony.

Not at her best

Yeo anchored her University of California team in March to a world record in the 4x50 metres medley at the US collegiate championships, but she was off her previous bests in Sydney.

The team welcomed national records set by Sng Ju Wei in the 400 metres freestyle (4:01.34), more than three seconds under his previous best, and by Mark Chay in the 200 metres freestyle (1:52.22), beating his personal best by just under two seconds.

"We wish we had done better, but we're not too disappointed," Song said.Singapore, with a population of just four million, are not by themselves in the no-medal stakes. With six days to go in the Olympics, only about one-third of the 200 participating countries have captured anything.

China were in second place on Tuesday in the medals tally behind the United States, with 21 gold medals and a total 48, with Japan in 11th place with five gold, and Korea in 12th with four. Among other Asian nations, Indonesia have one gold and Taiwan one silver and two bronze.

But not to gain anything goes against Singapore's passion for sport and determination to take their place on the world stage.

The government has established a sports ministry with a focus on sports in which success is likely, and has promised lucrative cash incentives for medal winners.

All that's required now is for someone to move past fourth place. "I think sports are very important for us because we can see that sports unify a nation, that when we win, we have heroes and that binds the nation," Song said.

(c) Reuters Limited.

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    Read more about: olympics 2000 sports
    Story first published: Tuesday, September 26, 2000, 18:23 [IST]
    Other articles published on Sep 26, 2000
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