Former national sailor Benedict Tan will be Singapore's chef de mission at next year's Tokyo Olympics. ST PHOTO: LIM YAO HUI.
More than two decades after Benedict Tan unfurled the sails of his laser dinghy off the coast of Savannah at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the former national sailor will return to the quadrennial event in a different role.
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) announced yesterday Tan will lead Singapore's contingent at the 2020 Tokyo Games as its chef de mission (CDM).
The 51-year-old won four gold medals at the SEA Games from 1989 to 1995 and clinched the laser title at the 1994 Asian Games.
Tan, pictured in action at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, when he finished 36th out of 56. Now 51, he is head of SingHealth Duke-National University of Singapore Sport and Exercise Medicine Centre and chief of Changi General Hospital's department of sports medicine. PHOTO COURTESY OF BENEDICT TAN
While this is his first time as CDM, Tan was Team Singapore's sports physician at the 2002 and 1998 Asian Games, and the 2001 and 1999 SEA Games in his capacity as the then Singapore Sports Council's medical officer. He is currently head of SingHealth Duke-National University of Singapore Sport and Exercise Medicine Centre and chief of Changi General Hospital's department of sports medicine.
Last year, he was elected as one of the SNOC's four vice-presidents. He was previously president of the Singapore Sailing Federation from 2010 to 2018 and was appointed chairman of World Sailing's medical commission in 2017.
Calling the appointment a "tremendous privilege", Tan said: "Like many Singaporeans, I look forward to Tokyo 2020 with a lot of excitement. I will strive to fill my role the best I can and hope my experience as an Olympian, sports physician and administrator will be of value."
Singapore's International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Ng Ser Miang said Tan's experience as an athlete and official and his passion for sports would "make him a very good CDM and also serve as a role model".
Ng also believes Tan could rise to the pinnacle of international sports in the future and follow in the former's footsteps. He said: "He has the credentials and capability to be (there) one day, perhaps even be involved in the IOC. We have many young sports leaders in the different national sports associations and working with Sport Singapore...these are good signs."
With less than a year to the July 24-Aug 9 Olympics, Tan stressed he and his team's focus would be to ensure that they "facilitate everything smoothly so that the athletes can concentrate on training and competing".
The soaring summer heat in Tokyo is one concern, with reports of the extreme heat killing at least 57 people across Japan since late July. Several athletes competing at the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships, a test event for Olympic organisers, were treated for heatstroke earlier this month.
With this in mind, an exercise physiologist who specialises in heat stress is working to customise a strategy to manage heat that is tailored to each sport and its athletes, particularly those whose sports are based outdoors, said Tan.
Cooling body vests are being tested to help bring down athletes' temperatures just before an event.
He noted "logistics" would be the biggest challenge for the team from the SNOC, Sport Singapore and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI).
"A lot is at stake for the athletes, blood and sweat is at stake and we don't want to leave any stone unturned and our preparations have to be 100 per cent," said Tan.
National sailor Justin Liu, who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the Nacra 17 with Denise Lim, said Tan has been "approachable and willing to help" the athletes.
Liu and Lim, who are campaigning for the 2020 Games, were training and competing at the Olympic venue in Tokyo this month and also pointed to the city's heat and high humidity as an obstacle for the team to navigate.
Liu added: "Getting acclimatised to the heat here will definitely be a concern for our team as we spend a lot of time out in the sun.
"The SSI team has helped a lot by allowing us to test cooling vests which help to keep core temperature down in the heat."
Singapore returned from the last three Olympics with medals. At the 2008 in Beijing, the women's table tennis team bagged a silver. Feng Tianwei and her teammates then clinched two bronzes (singles and team) four years later in London.
At the 2016 Rio Games, swimmer Joseph Schooling won the Republic's first gold with his victory in the men's 100m butterfly final.