Flying the flag high: NUS athletes do Singapore proud in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics

As the dust settles on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the NUS athletes representing Singapore can look back with pride on their accomplishments and their journeys in competing with the best of the best on the world stage.

Five NUS students and alumni flew the country's flag proudly. Third-year undergraduate Toh Wei Soong competed in swimming at the Paralympic Games, while the Olympics saw second-year students Kiria Tikanah (fencing) and Adele Tan (shooting), as well as alumna Joan Poh (rowing) and Chantal Liew (marathon swimming).

Toh Wei Soong, a third-year undergraduate from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Philosophy, Politics and Economics Programme) and the University Scholars Programme, made a splash at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, representing Singapore in three events. A former bronze medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and a two-time gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Para Games, he put up a sterling performance, coming in 7th in both the Men’s S7 400m Freestyle final and the Men’s S7 50m Freestyle final. Finishing with a bang in his final event, the Men’s S7 50m Butterfly, he powered home to 2nd and 4th position in the heats and finals respectively, setting new national records in both.

Behind the accomplishments, though, was a journey of sacrifice, discipline, and sheer hard work. “I can’t remember how many parties I’ve missed out over the years nor the number of fun outings I could not make,” Wei Soong muses. “I remember a lot of tough days where I could get no work done, or mad rushes to catch up on work once I returned from overseas.”

“It takes a village to raise any potential champion, or so they say—and I have a great village,” he adds, crediting his community with the constant support indispensable to his sporting achievements.

But, for him, the journey is far from over yet. Professing a belief in an interminable, dynamic journey of self-improvement and growth, he reflects, “Competing in the Paralympic Games has been a dream since 2013. It was terrific to make the journey and to race against the best in the world; in light of this, I would say the dream is fulfilled.”

But you know, the future is out there. I can feel it calling. This outing is part of a longer journey, or at least that’s how it feels, and so I’m satisfied but keeping my eyes to the horizon of 2024.”

Other NUS students have also put in admirable showings in the Olympics, such as Kiria Tikanah, a second-year undergraduate from the Faculty of Science (Chemistry) who represented Singapore in Fencing in the Women’s Individual Épée event. With skill and tenacity that belied her ranking of 207th in the world, she emerged victorious with a score of 15-11 against her 90th-ranked opponent, Hong Kong’s Coco Lin, and gave world number one Ana Maria Popescu a run for her money.

The journey to the Olympic stage was not easy. Like many other athletes, Kiria has had to contend with tightening COVID-19 restrictions, disrupted training sessions, and the initial discomfort of training in a face mask underneath her fencing mask. To adapt both physically and mentally to the evolving situation, she watched high-level fencing matches online and honed her mental strength and focus during the Circuit Breaker period when physical training sessions were replaced by Zoom classes.

Reflecting on how her experience has challenged and shaped her as an athlete and a person, she says, “Being able to compete with such accomplished athletes was already such an honour. It has surely spurred me on to train even harder so that one day I can hopefully stand on the same podium as them.”

“More than anything, I learned that having the right motivation to train and compete is very important, because we will face a lot of times when we want to slack and quit, but we need to remember why we started training in the first place.”

Hailing from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, second-year undergraduate Adele Tan took her shot at the Women’s Shooting 10m Air Rifle event, coming in 21st place in the qualifiers with a commendable score of 625.3 points. Having earned a gold medal and set a new national record of 632.5 points in the women's 10m air rifle event at the H&N Cup in January 2020, Adele had been nominated to represent Singapore in the Olympics after an arduous 1.5-year selection process. Her excellent performance helped Singapore achieve its strongest showing yet in the event at the Olympic Games.

Joan Poh, an NUS Nursing and NUS Dragon Boat alumna, represented Singapore in Women’s Rowing, Single Sculls, powering home with a timing of 8:21.23 to clinch 4th place in final E and 28th place overall. She was the second rower to represent Singapore at the Olympics, a feat that did not come easy. As a nurse working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, as well as an Olympic athlete on the global stage, Joan juggled 10-hour hospital shifts and Olympic training on the road to Tokyo 2020, marrying her desire to serve and her passion for the sport.

Last but not least, Chantal Liew, an alumna of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (Communications and New Media) and 2017 NUS Sportswoman of the Year, made waves at the Tokyo Olympics in Women’s Marathon Swimming (10km), clinching 23rd place with a timing of 2:08.17.9. She was the first Singaporean to ever qualify for the Olympics in the Women’s Marathon Swimming category, and previously had also been Singapore’s first open water swimming medalist, claiming silver at the 2017 SEA Games in 2017.

Congratulations to our athletes for your phenomenal Olympics and Paralympics debuts!