Ex-Olympian Peng Siong inspires Paralympians in his all-round role with team
BY SIM CHI YIN
Coach, carer, confidant, team leader and father figure.
Ang Peng Siong is all these and more to Paralympic swimmers Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu, and their families.
The 45-year-old, a former Olympic swimmer, and his team bagged Singapore’s first Paralympic gold – won by Pin Xiu – and a silver while posting two world records and two national records at the recent Beijing Games.
The medal haul, which would have been dismissed as a pipe dream some years back, sparked joyous scenes both at the poolside and in Singapore.
Behind the historic result, as the swimmers, their parents and the support staff will tell you, is “Uncle Siong” – as Ang is affectionately known.
Said Goh’s mother, Rose, 50: “Lots, lots, lots, lots. Ang is much more than a coach. He doesn’t talk much but, when he does, we listen.”
Goh, 21, who has had six other coaches in her decade of competitive swimming, concurred. “He knows what he’s talking about and always has our best interests at heart.”
Quite simply, Goh – who has been training with Ang for five years – sees him as “the best coach I’ve ever had by many, many miles”.
Over the years, she has been to several overseas swim meets with just Uncle Siong taking care of her – and, in the past year or so, Pin Xiu, 16.
“He makes sure we eat well, sleep well and are hydrated and lots of other things,” said Goh.
Pin Xiu, who has muscular dystrophy and cannot grip with her fingers, never jumps into the pool without Uncle Siong pulling on her swim cap for her in the four years he has been training her.
Danny Ong, 32, Singapore’s Paralympic swim team manager, said it is the personal touch that makes Ang different.
“Ang’s a fatherly coach. One look in his eyes and the girls know what he wants them to do,” Ong added.
“He’s a very meticulous man who does his research. He looks into sports science, jots down the girls’ lactate and hydration levels and heart rate at every training session, and then comes up with a new training plan.”
As many see it, a key difference between this Paralympic outing and previous ones was that, for the first time, there was a strong support crew of doctor, physiotherapist, psychologist and nutritionist.
And they built such close rapport with the swimmers that, like their charges, they returned with matching red-and-white painted fingernails to celebrate Pin Xiu’s wins.
The Paralympians had to thank Ang for the technical support. He had lobbied the Singapore Sports Council for it a few years back, revealed SSC chief executive Oon Jin Teik.
Team sports psychologist Andrea Furst, 31, a Singapore-based Australian, said: “Siong recruited this sports science team. That coach-driven programme is the reason this good performance has happened. This is how it’s done in countries with more developed sporting cultures.”
In the pool, he has been practising the kind of equality he preaches. For some years now, he has integrated his training sessions for the disabled and able-bodied swimmers, making only small adjustments for the disabled ones.
In Ang’s mind, the difference between them is so small that when Goh and Pin Xiu swim alongside able-bodied national swimmers like Bryan Tay and Zach Ong, he sometimes absent-mindedly tells everyone in the pool to kick – forgetting that neither of the girls have use of their legs.
Ang was engaged by the Singapore Disability Sports Council in 2003 to run a swimming programme for disabled athletes. That has enriched and opened a whole different chapter in his life.
Before you can convince him that he has been an inspiration to all around him, Ang says it is Goh who has touched him with her zeal for life and determination to realise her dreams.
Both were visibly disappointed when Goh finished her pet 100m breaststroke (SB4) event just short of a bronze in Beijing. They had set a medal target back at the 2004 Athens Games.
Now exhausted from his Paralympic outing – having spent much of last month away in Beijing – Ang says he will take a long break before charting Goh and Pin Xiu’s path to the London Games in 2012.
No doubt, the nation and swimmers expect another telling contribution from Uncle Siong.
“The medal is not just a piece of metal. It symbolises all the time, effort and sacrifices they put in. Most importantly, it symbolises their wish and will to be treated as equal to everyone else.”
ANG PENG SIONG on Yip Pin Xiu, 16, and Theresa Goh, 21, who has been big sister and mentor to the younger swimmer