National Service Killed Swim Legend Ang Peng Siong’s Best Chance of Winning an Olympic Medal

Strawberries, if you don’t know who Ang Peng Siong is, he’s the Joseph Schooling of your parent’s time.

And just when he was about to hit his peak, national service killed off all hope of him possibly winning a medal in the contest he fared best.

When he was 17 years old, Ang was the only Asian who made it to the finals of the 50m freestyle in the Olympic Games in Hawaii.

After that, he accepted a sports scholarship from Houston University in the US.

In 1982, the “Flying Fish” became the first and only Singaporean (up till now) to hold the world No. 1 ranking in the 50m freestyle.

He clocked a time of 22.69s, and that year was conferred the title of “world’s fastest swimmer”.

In 1982, Ang also won the gold in the 100m freestyle at the Asian Games (because he was so damn good).

In 1984, Ang represented Singapore in the Olympic Games and won a “B” consolation finals in the 100m freestyle.

Then, in 1986, NS came calling – or rather, demanding.

Ang was sent to Pulau Tekong for his BMT.

He was trained just as any recruit was, but tougher (because hey, this chap is Ang Peng Siong man!)

As a water person, the land-based military exercises took its toll on his body.

He even came down with heat exhaustion once during an 8km route march.

After BMT, he was sent to train as a naval officer, and it was during this time that his body gave way – he collapsed from pneumonia and was hospitalised.

Ang asked to be deferred from NS for the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

However, he faced barriers, with the first being his Commanding Officer who tried to discourage him.

The Singapore Amateur Swimming Association appealed to MINDEF, and he was mercifully granted a 6-month deferment.

Ang was then sent along with a handful of swimmers for intensive training in the US.

The 1988 Seoul Games in 1988 was especially significant because it was the first time the 50m freestyle was introduced in the Olympics.

That means Ang would finally get a chance to compete in a swimming event that was a perfect fit for him.

However, in the heats, his timing put him in 9th place.

Ang was 1 place shy of making the finals – and this missed opportunity would be enough to make this giant of a man cry when relating the tale.

Ang has since said that Singapore’s Olympians should be granted an uninterrupted pathway when training for the Games.

He says the system must feed the athletes hunger and give him or her a fighting chance to excel.

Ang agrees that local Olympic gold medal winner Joseph Schooling should be allowed to train without disruption till the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.



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