Para archer, divers, shooter among new spexScholars for 2017

The new spexScholars taking a selfie with Minister Grace Fu yesterday. Currently in its fourth year, the spexScholarship programme now boasts a total of 67 athletes. Photo: Jason Quah
Paddler Feng Tianwei greeting STTA president Ellen Lee at the spexScholarship awards ceremony on March 17, 2017. Photo: Jason Quah
Fifteen athletes inducted into programme as S’pore aims for more sporting success
Published: 4:00 AM, March 18, 2017

SINGAPORE — Diving twins Timothy and Mark Lee dream of becoming the first Singaporeans to stand on the diving platform at the Tokyo Olympics, and the brothers’ quest for the 2020 Games was handed a major boost yesterday after they were both awarded Sports Excellence Scholarships (spexScholarship).

The two athletes were part of 15 new spexScholars unveiled at the awards ceremony at the National Youth Sports Institute satellite facility at Kallang, with Commonwealth Games champion Teo Shun Xie and para archer Nur Syahidah Alim among the new cohort of awardees.

The spexScholarship, which was started in 2013 to provide support to athletes with the potential to succeed at major Games and competitions, will provide more funds for the twins to travel outside Asia to compete in more high-level competitions. They plan to take on a full-time training load while juggling university studies after completing their National Service in July.

“Tim and I are hungry, we want it more than ever — we’ve already promised each other not to back out and we are going to get there in 2020,” said Mark, 22.

“If I can go to the Olympics, I’ll make the sacrifices and it’s the same for Tim ... Based on the progress we have been making, we definitely have a chance. We just have to make sure we put in the hours and grind through every single training.”

Para archer Syahidah is planning to take no-pay leave from her corporate strategy executive job at Sport Singapore (SportSG) for the next two years in order to train full-time for the 2020 Paralympic Games.

The 32-year-old was encouraged by her debut at the Rio Paralympics last year, and she has also set her sights on competing at both the SEA Games and Asean Para Games this year in a first for the para sports community.

“It (Paralympics) made me realise where I stand as a Team Singapore athlete at world level and I believe there’s more to me,” she said.

“I can push even harder and perform even better.”

Teo, 28, could also follow suit, as she is mulling a decision to leave her job as a research officer. She said: “I’ve been thinking about (going full-time) since Rio. For the past few years, I’ve seen results and I started (to be more motivated) to push myself more.”

Four new sports were added to the spexScholarship roster this year: Canoe paddle, diving, para archery, and para athletics. Currently in its fourth year, the programme now boasts a total of 67 athletes. They include Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, who is the only athlete on a four-year scholarship, though there are plans to extend this to swimmer Quah Zheng Wen and a number of sailors.

Yesterday’s awards ceremony — which was attended by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu — also saw a surprise attendee in the form of paddler Feng Tianwei, who was spotted chatting with former national team-mates Yu Mengyu and Zhou Yihan, as well as Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) president Ellen Lee. Feng appeared to be in good spirits yesterday, some five months after she was unceremoniously axed from the national team by the STTA.

With spexScholars continuing to perform well at major Games and competitions, Richard Gordon, SportSG’s head of high performance is confident that they will see even more success in the future. This particularly after the Government’s recent announcement that it would be investing an additional S$50 million in the high performance sports system over the next five years.

“Since the (last) Olympics, the key question is, ‘Can we get another Joseph Schooling’?,” he said. “I think the answer to that is: Yes, we can. We’ll wait as long as it takes, but we’ve got to make sure there is long-term investment ... into the key priorities.”