'Welcome back Team Singapore!': Family, friends celebrate Special Olympics homecoming
Friends, family and fans showed up at Changi Airport to welcome home Team Singapore athletes from the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi.
SINGAPORE: The moment Singapore’s Special Olympics athletes entered the arrival hall of Changi Airport on Saturday (Mar 23), a crowd exclaimed in unison: “Welcome back Team Singapore!”
Family and friends had gathered at Terminal 2 - armed with flags, banners, balloons and garlands - eagerly awaiting the return of their loved ones.
Fresh from a week of competition in Abu Dhabi, the athletes walked out proudly with their medals. Someone in the crowd shouted: “Well done!”
Singapore won four gold, four silver and eight bronze medals at the Special Olympics, a competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
But it was their stories of grit, guts and never-give-up attitude that have inspired many.
Sprinter Jacob Wong, 14, said the competition has been a good experience.
He won gold in the M3 division of the 100m race at the Games, but not before missing his 200m race due to an injury.
“I feel excited because this is my first medal, I am very proud to represent Singapore because they gave me a chance to participate; it is a good experience for me,” said Jacob, the youngest athlete in the contingent.
READ: 'The heart of a lion' - Singapore youngster claws back from injury to win Special Olympics gold
He won praise for his stellar performance, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lauding his efforts.
“We should celebrate such inspiring stories by our athletes who embody the never-give-up attitude, even when things do not go their way. Not forgetting the coaches, support staff, and families, who have cheered the athletes on at every stage of this journey,” said Mr Lee in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Then there was swimmer Siau Ek Jin’s unfaltering determination to represent the nation.
In the 50m breaststroke M6 division, the 26-year-old clinched bronze, clocking a personal best timing of 47.95 seconds.
The swimmer’s mother, Mrs Lucy Siau, said that after he was not selected to take part in the previous edition of the Games, he trained even harder to realise his goals.
“It’s his dream, and he really trained very, very hard, almost seven days a week and two hours a day for the past whole year,” his mother said.
“He was very upset when he wasn’t selected previously but we told him if he continued to train hard he would have the opportunity to go,” she added.
“Now that he has represented Singapore, he has achieved his own target; that’s his proudest moment. The bronze medal is a bonus.
“My son took 10 years to learn swimming and he only made his first stroke when he was 16 years old. For him to make it to the Special Olympics is really a miracle,” she said with a bright smile.
The Jeyabalan family had much to celebrate as well after siblings Priyadarshani Jeyabalan and Shaman Pandian Jeyabalan both won medals in Dubai, where the track and field events were held.
Priyadarshani, who had an injury midway through her 400m F3 division race last Tuesday, continued to power through her race to cling on to a third-place finish. Her brother Shaman won a silver in his event.
“I was very happy to get a medal, having teamwork with everyone and helping each other in our group and never giving up on them. When my brother was racing, I screamed: ‘Shaman run faster!’,” Priyadarshani said.
Coach Tamil Selvi added: “Priya is very motherly, she can lead the whole team and the girls can follow her; same for Sharman, he can lead the boys together. There was always team spirit and we could see that they were helping each other.”
SPIRIT OF THE GAMES
Above all, it was the journey and personal growth of the athletes that mattered most.
“The medals are important but it’s not the only thing, we’re very proud of all our athletes whether they have won a gold medal or whether they’ve come in third or fourth,” said president of Special Olympics Singapore Teo-Koh Sock Miang.
“For us, when you win the medals, that’s just the icing on the cake. Sports is transformative; our athletes transform, grow and learn through sports. They find out who they are and they become so much more confident and independent; that’s what sports is all about,” Dr Teo-Koh said.
Thirty athletes took part in this edition of the Special Olympics, the 10th year that Singapore has participated at the quadrennial multi-sport event.
Team Singapore athletes competed in six different sports, including athletics, bocce and bowling, as well as a unified basketball event, where players without intellectual disabilities partnered Special Olympics athletes.
The Abu Dhabi Games brought together 7,500 athletes and unified partners from 192 nations.