TL;DR – Faith in Singaporeans restored once more.
Most, if not all, Singaporeans will know who Joseph Schooling is. He won Singapore’s first and current only gold medal at the Olympics. But he’s not the only Singaporean athlete who is creating waves in the international spots scene.
Recently, Matthew Yap, a 17 year-old Singaporean polytechnic student, took part in the World Classic Powerlifting Championships in Belarus. In the squat event, he first lifted 190kg. When it came time for his second lift, he had a cramp. So he chose to skip his second attempt. For his third attempt, he decided to go for broke. He piled on the weights for an attempt to lift 208kg. If he succeeded, that would be a new world record.
Here is Matthew at his third lift:
And that’s how a Singaporean became a world record holder in a sport.
Nearly no happy ending
This story nearly didn’t have a happy ending though.
When Matthew and Marcus, his coach and brother, got to the airport for their flight home, they were detained by the authorities for visa violations. They required a visa if they stayed in Belarus for more than five days. Upon arrival, the customs allowed them through, presumably because the customs officer thought that the pair were only staying for five days.
However, when the pair got to the airport for departure, the customs officers told them that their stay counted as six days, and thus they required a visa. The officers then detained them and informed them that they needed to pay a fine of USD600. The pair then opted for deportation because they didn’t have the money. Eventually, the customs officers were kind enough to waive the fine.
Unfortunately, that delay caused the pair to miss their flight. They had to get tickets for another flight. When they checked with their airline, Lufthansa, they found out that the tickets would cost €949 (S$1,470) each, which they were unable to afford. The return fare was eventually reduced to €603 for the brothers to rebook their flights to Frankfurt, Germany, then back to Singapore.
Even with the reduced price, the brothers still weren’t able to afford the tickets. The brothers do not come from a well-heeled family. They had raised money on their own to take part in the competition. Matthew had to work at a 10-hour shift at a local Korean cafe during his holidays for two-and-a-half months while training for this trip and as for Marcus, he used up all of his savings. They didn’t have any more money.
In stepped bighearted Singaporeans
Learning of their financial situation, Powerlifting Singapore, set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed.
According to Daphne Loo, the media officer of Powerlifting Singapore, the funds immediately started to come in. She said:
“It first hit S$200, and then suddenly it became S$2,200.”
She was pleasantly surprised by the support. She explained:
“As an association that is not a recognised National Sports Association, we didn’t think people would respond this way. Powerlifting is growing in Singapore, but it still hasn’t become so popular that everyone knows what it is. Our athletes receive recognition but before Matthew’s world record, it was limited. So we definitely didn’t expect this.”
With the support of big-hearted Singaporeans, the campaign managed to raise S$2,685, which was sufficient for the brothers to get the tickets they needed to get home. That’s not all. According to Ms Loo, a Singaporean living abroad in Frankfurt offered to visit the boys at the airport and bring them for a hot meal, when they arrive in Frankfurt.
Some would ask, why didn’t MFA do more than just negotiating with the airline to reduce the fares?
Well, we don’t have any insider information, but to be fair to MFA, there isn’t a Singapore embassy in Belarus. The nearest Singaporean embassy is in Russia. So I think we can understand that it’s a bit difficult for MFA to render immediate assistance.
That said, this whole episode has shown that we don’t need to depend on the government for everything. The brothers got to the competition without any support from the government. When they met with that unexpected problem, it wasn’t the government that helped them solve it. It was ordinary Singaporeans who rose to the occasion.
And that, in itself, is heartwarming. That we, as a people can come together when it matters, help one another, and achieve great things.
This is the kind of spirit that will see us through crises, and help bring us to SG100.