Upon the conclusion of the Olympics, it’s customary to argue about which athletes’ medal triumphs were more significant than others. Here we take a look at South-East Asia’s top performers and why their medals were particularly special.
An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal. However, some success stories carry slightly more weight than others. For instance, while Team USA’s triumph in the basketball was impressive, it was expected. On the contrary, a first Olympic medal for an Iranian women in the taekwondo event was not expected and in relative terms is a far more impressive feat.
South East Asia had some glowing tales of their own. Amongst their stars were Hoang Xuan Vinh, Hidilyn Diaz, Joseph Schooling, and the pair of Cheong Jun Hoong and Pandelela Rinong.
Vinh shoots for the moon and nails it
Xuan Vinh is a shooter, who famously claimed Vietnam’s first ever Olympic gold medal in Rio. The event he was able to do that in was the 10-metre air pistol contest. In the final, he showed great courage to overcome Brazil’s Felipe Almeida Wu who had extremely vocal support from the home crowd.
It was a see-saw battle between the two. Wu had a .2 lead going into the final shot. Wu fired first and scored a 10.1, Vinh responded with a stellar 10.7 to steal the gold.
Speaking afterwards, the 41-year-old Vinh said he was able to block out the hopes of a nation that were resting on his shoulders and simply focus on his target.
“On the last shot I don’t think gold or silver,” he explained.
“I think only try. It will be my lifetime memory.”
To handle a moment as big as that with such composure and control was quite sublime.
Vinh then added a silver medal in the 50-metre pistol to his haul. What a performance!
Diaz’s lifts the Philippines out of medal slump
Despite the Philippines being a hugely populated country, they have not won an Olympic medal in 20 years. That was until Diaz posted an overall weight of 200kg, 88kg in the snatch and 112kg in the clean and jerk, to finish second in the women’s 53kg weight class.
While the Philippines is a hugely populated country, it is a nation where poverty is rife.
Diaz’s victory brought great pride to the land but more importantly, it was also a powerful symbol of hope to people of all backgrounds.
Put quite simply, Diaz hoped her silver medal would inspire those in her homeland to believe that anything is possible.
“My win proves that we can compete against other countries,” she said.
Hoong and Rinong cause a splash
The diving pairing of Hoong and Rinong were fearless in the manner in which they challenged the more fancied Chinese pairing of Chen Ruolin and Liu Huixia in the women’s synchronised 10-metre platform.
While their overall score of 344.34 points was ten shy of gold and only good enough for silver, the Malaysian pairing performed with grace, co-ordination and honour.
Rinong admitted that their performance took concentration of the highest order in the face of extreme pressure.
“We were focused on our dives and what we needed to do,” she said.
“Although points were flashed on the giant scoreboard across the platform, we didn’t look at our position.”
Schooling teaches the world a lesson
Undoubtedly South East Asia’s stand-out performer, Schooling’s Olympic record of 50.39 seconds was more than enough to win the 100-metre butterfly event and in doing so claim Singapore’s first ever gold medal.
That moment will live long in the memory.
Singapore is not a country with a massive swimming culture, however, Schooling bucked the trend and worked incredibly hard in the build-up to The Games to put himself in a position where he could compete.
Once at The Games, he kept his emotions in check wonderfully well and simply executed the races he wanted to.
Of his gold-winning race, he said: “I just tried to stick to my game plan, knew I would be out fast. It was all about how much heart you had coming home, trying to get your hand on the wall first and thankfully I could.”