Big Read Unwrapped: Passion for gold and getting into the psyche of a top athlete

  • To realise their passion for gold, top athletes push themselves to both physical and mental limits.
  • Everyone gets 24 hours in a day and it does not matter if you are an ordinary Singaporean on the street or a top national athlete so it is no wonder many top athletes miss birthday parties, ruin family holidays and skip nights out with friends.
  • Through our monthly Big Read Unwrapped, TheHomeGround Asia speaks to national para swimmer and Commonwealth Games medalist Toh Wei Soong to learn what drives a top athlete like him to push himself to “infinity and beyond” for gold.

Team Singapore’s passion for gold had its athletes lead a successful campaign in 2022.

Sports administrators hailed the “bright future” ahead for Singapore sport after the showing by its athletes at the SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam; the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Britain; and the ASEAN Para Games in Solo, Indonesia.

At the SEA Games, the contingent of 424 athletes across 33 sports, clinched 47 gold, 46 silver and 71 bronze medals, over a third of the 161 medals garnered were claimed by debutants. Singapore’s athletes also set five Games records, 16 national marks, and 41 personal bests.

Singapore’s para athletes were not worse off when the 36 across nine sports shined by clinching seven gold medals at the ASEAN Para Games after the biennial competition returned five years and two postponements later due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Team Singapore ended its Commonwealth Games campaign with a total of four gold medals and eight new national records set. Sixty-six Singaporean athletes and para-athletes compete across nine sports. Three of Singaporeā€™s four gold medals came from the table tennis team.

Two-time gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Para Games Toh Wei Soong decided to hedge his bets on the Commonwealth Games , a decision well made, clinching him the silver in the menā€™s 50m freestyle S7 final. His silver was the second for Singapore after national swimmer Teong Tzen Weiā€™s in the menā€™s 50m butterfly.

But this passion for gold was not without sacrifices.

The push to excel, athletes’ passion for gold

Everyone gets 24 hours in a day and it does not matter if it is the ordinary Singaporean on the street or a top national athlete. And since time is a great equaliser of people, athletes sacrifice a lot to be successful. So, it is no wonder many top athletes miss birthday parties, ruin family holidays and skip nights out with friends, but there is a very good reason for making such sacrifices.

I had to come to that conclusion very young in my life. I started out swimming for fun and I realised it was something that I was good at but when it came to the intersection of school and my sport, I had to ask myself very early on, in secondary school, is it something I would like to continue to do. Is it something that I would endure the pain to try to succeed at,” Toh, 24, says at TheHomeGround Asia monthly Big Read Unwrapped.

Big Read Unwrapped: Passion for gold and getting into the psyche of a top athlete
National para swimmer Toh Wei Soong’s decision to hedge his bets on the Commonwealth Games this year to reach his passion for gold paid off when he took the second silver for Singapore. (Photo source: Edwin Tong/Facebook)

Toh was two when he was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a condition which is caused by the inflammation of the spinal cord and has affected his lower nervous system. And while he could not walk, he could swim. He eventually realised he was good at it and started swimming competitively at 13.

He swam in the national para swimming championships in 2011, and a year later, he represented Anglo Chinese School Independent at the inter-school swimming championships, “what every student athlete wants to do”.

I came to the conclusion that yes, this is something that I want to stake years of my life on. This is something that I want to devote more than 24 hours a week towards, and this is something I want to fight for, even if it means that I am sacrificing parties with my friends, hours I could spend bettering my grades and so many other things that a regular teenager could choose to do but instead had given up for a cause I would not recommend anyone else to follow,” Toh says.

Role models, coaches and self confidence

While Toh says it is important to have heroes and role models, it is just as important for an athlete to believe in himself or herself.

“I have received so much love, care and support from my family, my coaches, my teachers and friends that I honestly could not have done this without them. It is difficult to do it alone. Only very very strong people would be able to do it and keep themselves on the optimal path to sporting success. I, thankfully, do not have to do that alone. Iā€™ve had many people in my life. I could say that my house, the house of myself is very full,” he says.Ā 

Toh, whose name means “mountain” in Chinese, adds, “What I choose to do I would go about it in a reasonable way, in a way that is resolute, and has strength and I think that sort of description is apt. The problem about being a mountain is sometimes you get caught on one idea and youā€™d be caught on the spot and youā€™d become inflexible in the way you want to do things and thatā€™s where role models come in and say there are other ways.”

On his relationship with his coach, former national swimmer and Olympian Ang Peng Siong, Toh says it is one of “complete trust and complete faith in me as an athlete”.

Big Read Unwrapped: Passion for gold and getting into the psyche of a top athlete
National para swimmer Toh Wei Soong says his coach Ang Peng Siong (centre) keeps him grounded but reminds him that there is so much more to do to be on top. They are seen here with Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong (left). (Photo source: Edwin Tong/Facebook)

“That is something that the legendary Australian coach Bill Sweetenham told both of us when we visited him in Brisbane some years back and I think we have embodied that sort of relationship and that faith and trust such that whenever I have a triumph, there is always things to be improved on but moving in a very solid, steady way. And whenever there is a failure or of an expectation we have failed to meet, there is always a hope for the future, there is always a path forward. live your life.ā€™ Then you can take that sort of conviction and absorb it and then you can make a better decision. And so I think that is a cohesive process that has to come together from a lot of different factors,” he says, adding that is why he and Ang make a great team.

RELATED: Passion for gold: National para swimmer Toh Wei Soong creates waves

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