SINGAPORE: Thanks to one definitive historic gold medal won in Olympic record-breaking style on Aug 13, the surge of national pride and unity across Singapore is at an all-time high. So what better time than now, to pay tribute to five of our favourite homegrown heroes who achieved what everyone thought was unattainable - the highest honours on the world’s biggest stages. The ones who worked harder, pushed further and dreamt bigger to prove that someone from a tiny Southeast Asian island-city-state of less than six million can truly break that proverbial international glass ceiling in the arenas of entertainment and sports, in spite of the odds and playing field. They are the rule re-writers. They are the game-changers. They are the history-makers. They are … Singaporeans.
Singapore’s first Olympic Gold medallist: JOSEPH SCHOOLING
He achieved what everyone thought was impossible. Not only did the 21-year-old Singaporean win the 100-metre butterfly in Olympic record breaking time (50.39s) to clinch his country’s first-ever gold medal, he did by beating out his idol and the most-decorated-Olympian-of-all-time Michael Phelps. He flew back to Singapore almost immediately to a hero’s welcome and a whirlwind of non-stop press conferences, interviews and fan mobs.
Throughout it all, he handled the spotlight and scrunity with the steel of a seasoned pro and the humility of a level-headed champ. “I hope this shows that even people from the smallest countries can do extraordinary things,” he said after his win. “And I hope this paves a new road for sports in Singapore, and opens a lot of doors. Hopefully this changes our sporting culture and mindset towards sports - that’s all I can dream for.” Upon seeing his fellow Singaporeans who came to welcome him at the airport, he said: “This (gold) is not for me. This is for everyone.” Give the man another medal already.
Singapore’s first Paralympic Gold medalist: YIP PIN XIU
She’s a true trailblazer in every sense of the word. Not only did national Paralympic swimmer Yip Pin Xiu become the first Singaporean to win a Paralympic gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, she also did it in record-breaking style at the mere age of 16 years old. She clocked 58.75 seconds in the S3 category women’s 50m backstroke eight years ago to win gold and rounded off that impressive feat by also clinching a silver in the women’s 50m freestyle event. En route to both event finals, she decidedly set two world records during her heats. Now 24, Yip who is fighting muscular dystrophy, a condition marked by the progressive weakening of the muscles, will be Singapore's flagbearer at the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony which will also be held in Rio. We can’t wait to see what she’ll achieve, having just had a stellar showing at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) European Open Championships with two new world records in both the 50m and 100m backstroke S2 events.
Singapore’s first Cannes Film Festival/Golden Horse Best Picture winner: ANTHONY CHEN (Ilo Ilo)
2013 would be the year that Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen will never forget. His debut feature film Ilo Ilo starts off by winning the Cannes Film Festival’s coveted Camera d’Or, becoming the first Singaporean film to win at what is arguably the world’s most prestigious film festival. And by November that same year, after picking up more than 20 international film awards in between, Ilo Ilo had done the impossible by taking home the Best Film prize at the 50th Golden Horse Awards. Dubbed as the Oscars of Chinese-language cinema, Chen’s family drama beat out films from critically acclaimed veteran directors such as Wong Kar Wai, Tsai Ming-liang, Johnnie To and Jia Zhangke to become the first Singaporean film to clinch the highest accolade of the awards and emerge as the biggest winner of the night, winning three other awards including Best New Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Yeo Yann Yann. Chen has been hitting cinematic stride after stride since his historic wins but it was what he said after that makes him a true Singaporean son.
“This is not just an honour for me, but for Singapore, since it is the first time a feature from Singapore has been awarded at Cannes,” he said after winning the Camera D’or. “We are from a really small country, and made a film of the smallest scale and even smaller budget,” he said after his Golden Horse wins. “I never would have imagined that we would win Best Feature Film at the Golden Horse Awards.”
Singapore’s first Academy Award winner: NICKSON FONG
It was a certificate, not the coveted gold Oscar statuette that he was presented with at the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony at the historic Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Still, that doesn’t take away the fact that animator Nickson Fong will go down in history as the first Singaporean to be honoured with an Academy Award in Hollywood. Part of a three-man international team, Fong received the Academy’s Technical Achievement Award in 2013 for inventing the “Pose Space Deformation”, a technique that allowed for more life-like movements and nuances in 3D animated characters and faces. Created in 2000, Fong’s brainchild is a bonafide game-changer in the film industry, having since been used in Hollywood blockbusters like Spiderman, Avatar and The Lord Of The Rings for their 3D characters. Held before the main Oscar ceremony, the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards recognize innovations and discoveries that have contributed in significant and lasting ways to motion pictures. For the record, To Singapore, With Love filmmaker Tan Pin Pin received a plaque in 2002 at the Student Academy Awards, which was established to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level.
Singapore’s first Venice Biennale Award winner: MING WONG
It is considered the most established and prestigious contemporary art event in the world, and Singaporean visual artist Ming Wong made sure he left his indelible mark. Solely representing the little red dot that year, his exhibition entitled Life of Imitation was awarded a Special Mention (Expanding Worlds) at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, a momentous first for a Singaporean. It was also the first time that International Jury, led by Italian academic Angela Vettese, has named the Special Mention awards individually to represent the qualities of the work. His win at the Venice Biennale, also regarded as the Olympics of the visual arts scene, notably elevated Singapore contemporary art onto a critical, global plane and pushing it to new heights.