The sport of modern pentathlon in particular received much interest from the Singapore media and people, given its new status in the country. Prior to the Youth Olympics, there had never been a major pentathlon event held in Singapore, and there was much interest in the sport as well as the athletes who would be competing for honours at the YOG. Young Valerie Lim, 18, who represented Singapore at the YOG, became something of a celebrity as Singaporeans all over the country followed her exploits in the swim, fence, and combined events. She eventually finished a fine 18th out of 24 athletes in the competition, a great result considering she had been training seriously in pentathlon for just over a year before the competition.
The Singapore Modern Pentathlon Association (SIMPA) was officially set up at the start of 2009. With a core team of executive committee members from the fencing and triathlon fraternities, we set out to hit the ground running in an effort to prepare ourselves to host the Youth Olympics, and also to develop a squad of young athletes who could do us proud as our first-ever pentathletes. The challenges we faced as the pioneering team of administrators were considerable: we had to register our national sports association and obtain the necessary approvals to function as the regulatory body for our sport; we had to obtain funding from the Government to sustain our activities and supplement this with sponsorship funding; and we had to develop comprehensive plans to establish the sport for it to grow in the years ahead.
It is not easy to be an athlete in Singapore. Our country’s focus is very much on academic and economic performance, and sporting pursuits are often ignored in favour of more practical goals such as achieving a good education and securing a well-paying job. As such, to introduce a sport like pentathlon, which requires training and competing in five separate disciplines, is a challenge, especially for young people who are already facing other pressures and demands at school.
We were fortunate to have benefitted from the excitement and buzz surrounding the YOG, and the media coverage and attention that came along with it. This ensured that the profile of pentathlon was among the highest of all the YOG sports, and gave us a launching pad from which to begin the next phase of our development plan.
To have started out with the focus on Youth Olympic athletes was to have turned the traditional development model upside down, with the pinnacle of high performance elite athletes becoming the starting point, instead of a wide base of participation, which would then feed into a development pipeline leading to an elite national squad as the end goal. As the excitement over the YOG dies down, we are now fully committed to creating that wide base by leveraging on our achievements in the past 18 months.
One of our key activities has been to continue our Schools Outreach Programme, which aims to introduce pentathlon to students between the ages of 11 and 18. In the first year-and-a-half after SIMPA was formed, some 5,000 students have taken part in the programme, which comprises a short video presentation on pentathlon which was created by SIMPA, followed by a series of games using plastic foils and toy dart guns which enable us to showcase fencing and the combined event in a safe and fun way.
Once students have experienced pentathlon through our outreach programme, the schools have the option to become part of our Schools Multisport Exposure Programme, a five-month series of training sessions which aims to impart the basic skills of pentathlon to young athletes. The programme is customizable depending on the requirements of each school and takes into consideration levels of experience in each of the five pentathlon events.
We are also aiming to develop a national biathle league as a simple way to introduce the physical elements of pentathlon to a wider public without the demands of the more technical sports like fencing, shooting and riding. We are in the process of collaborating with schools, community centres and other institutions to set up this league, and also seeking a sponsor to support this activity.
In the long run, we recognize that growing the sport of pentathlon in the surrounding region is also critical to our success. With pentathlon currently not featuring in any of the regional major games besides the Asian Games, it will be hard to convince governments in our neighbouring countries to support the growth of our sport. As the only country in South-east Asia to have pentathlon already set up, we see it as our duty and responsibility to help our friends nearby to begin their own pentathlon journey. To that end, we are hoping to conduct a regional training camp in the middle of 2011 with the support of the UIPM and the Asian Confederation to start introducing the sport to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and perhaps Vietnam.
To have come from our very humble beginnings less than two years ago, to where we are today, would not have been possible without the help of the UIPM and President Klaus Schormann, as well as our friends in the Asian Confederation and around the world. We are very grateful and will continue to work to ensure that we build on the legacy of the Youth Olympics and the vision of de Coubertin, to ensure that modern pentathlon has a long and lively future in this region and the world for many years to come.
Singapore Modern Pentathlon President