After witnessing Singapore swim king Joseph Schooling win Singapore’s first Olympic gold on Aug 13 – and beating reigning Olympic champion Michael Phelps in the process – Sashen Jeremiah Murali pestered his mother to take him to the stadium near his Choa Chu Kang home for a run (both pictured beow).
The nine-year-old dreams of becoming a sprinter and smashing his own records. Recounted Ms Nirmala Natasha Sathyamoorthi, 36: “He was so inspired, he wanted to run around the track and practise straight away.”
The former sales development manager was recently retrenched but plans to enrol Sashen (pictured below) in a private athletics coaching school costing about $100 a month.
“My son loves running and his favourite Marvel character is The Flash,” she said. “I think Schooling’s achievement has pushed many parents into seeing that doing well in sports is possible if their child is good at it and works hard.”
On Saturday morning, Schooling grabbed Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal at his pet event, the 100m butterfly, beating a star-studded field that included swimming great Michael Phelps.
In Singapore, the paper chase has long dominated the field of pursuit. But the 21-year-old’s feat is sparking conversation among parents here on how far they would go to support their children’s interest in alternative fields such as sports.
While most parents remain pragmatic about the importance of academics, mindsets are slowly but surely budging.
Mr See Kwang Seng was slightly hesitant about letting his daughters – aged four and six years – spend too much time on non-academic pursuits, but is now convinced they are on the right track.
The 39-year-old, whose daughters go for gymnastics training once a week, said: “Schooling’s example gave me hope and quite a bit of perspective.”
From October, his daughters will train twice a week, and he hopes to start competitive training for his younger girl – who has been assessed by their coach to have potential as a competitive gymnast – two to three years later.
The businessman, whose wife is Malaysian and family moved to Kuala Lumpur because of his work, has also decided to enrol them in a private school with a home-schooling programme, so as to give them more time to pursue other interests.
“I want to believe in my girl,” he said. “It’s too early to talk about monetary resources, but if and when we get there, we will try to make it work.”
A huge part of Schooling’s success has been attributed to the role his parents, Colin and May, played. They spent nearly US$1 million (S$1.4 million) on tuition, accommodation and other expenses while he trained in the United States.
Student care centre operator Melvyn Ang, 50, who has two swimmer sons in the Singapore Sports School, said Schooling’s win reinforced the role of parental support.
“You can catch up in your studies later, but in swimming, it has to be a continuous training process until you quit.”
But by and large, parents remain a pragmatic lot, saying that Schooling’s talent is “rare” and they may not have the resources needed.
Housewife Wong Yuling, 39, has two sons aged eight and 10 who are avid sprinters who now have their sights set on the Olympics. “After Schooling’s win, they read up on him and were amazed by stories of the hard work and effort he has put in,” she said. “If they have a future in sports, I will let them try.”
But “not many parents have the means to support their kids’ sporting desires long term, and not many kids stay in the sport long enough”.
There are other factors, said sales manager Choo Choon Teck, 47, whose Primary 5 son has athletics and squash training. “I have three children and have to consider if it’s fair to devote all resources to one of them even if he has the talent.”
He added: “In general, Singaporean parents and children compete more in academics – it’s inevitable.”
This means whatever societal shift that Schooling started on Saturday will be a very gradual process.
Said adjunct polytechnic lecturer Janet Yong, 43, who has a Secondary 1 son: “It will take a while for parents to shift away from the fixation on academics.”
A version of this article appeared in The Straits Times.
(Photos: ST file)