Singapore's first Paralympics gold medal

by Chan, Belinda

Yip Pin Xiu was hailed as “Pin Xiu the golden girl” in newspaper headlines when the 16-year-old became the first Singapore athlete to win gold in the 50m backstroke during the 13th Paralympic Games in Beijing in September 2008.1 She finished in 58.75 seconds, a timing which was seven seconds faster than second-placed Fran Williamson of Great Britain.2 Swimmer Yip who suffers from muscular dystrophy also won a silver for the 50m freestyle.3 She also garnered two world records during the games.4

For the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Singapore sent 23 athletes.5
Together, Singapore’s Paralympians bagged four medals, the best results since Singapore first began competing in the Paralympics 20 years ago. Equestrian Laurentia Tan won two bronzes. Swimmer Theresa Goh, who was Singapore’s official flag bearer for the closing ceremony set national records although she finished fourth in two of her events. Sailors Jovin Tan and Desiree Lim came in eighth among 11 teams.6

The Paralympics

The Paralympics focus on athletes with physical disabilities and the athletes are known as Paralympians.7 The Paralympics Movement can be traced back to 1948 when Dr Ludwig Guttmann organised the first archery competition for 16 World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries on 29 July, the day of the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics. The event was held in Stoke Mandeville, England, and was called the Stoke Mandeville Games. This first event developed into an international event in 1952 with participants from the Netherlands.8

In 1960, the first Paralympic Games organised in Olympic style took place in Rome. Other disability groups came for the 1976 Toronto Games and the first Paralympic Winter Games were also held that year in Sweden.9
Over time, participation in the Paralympic Movement has multiplied from “400 athletes from 23 countries in Rome in 196010 to 4,237 athletes from 164 countries in London in 2012”.11

The Paralympics Games do not have as high a profile as the Olympic Games, which are held in the same year and at the same venue as the Paralympics.12
Bernice Leong, a Secondary Four student at Chung Cheng High (Yishun) summed it well: “Behind every Olympian is a great story of conviction, careful nurturing and a steadfast, diligent spirit. Behind each physically challenged Paralympian is an even more amazing story of how individuals can overcome the odds and have the courage to stand out”.13

Pin Xiu the Golden Girl
Yip began swimming at the age of five as part of the physical therapy for her muscular dystrophy.14
This disease is caused by a gene abnormality resulting in “the development of muscle weakness, wasting and contractures that are usually progressive”.15 Yip started competitive swimming when she was 12 years old when she took part in the National Junior Swimming Championships organised by the Singapore Disability Sports Council. She won gold medals in all the six events she swam in.16 In 2005, Yip took part in her first international competition – the World Wheelchair and Amputee Games – in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She won two gold and one bronze medals at the games.17

Out of water, Yip relies on a wheelchair. Swimming has helped to strengthen her muscles, and also gives her the freedom that she does not have on land because of her physical disability. The joy she derives from swimming since the age of five prompted her parents to encourage her in her chosen sport.18

On 6 March 2009, Yip and fellow Paralympian, Laurentia Tan, 29, received the Her World Young Woman Achiever for 2008 presented by SPH Magazines to women under 35 years of age “for their work and potential to attain a higher level of success”. This award was in recognition of the young women’s successes at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. It was the first time that SPH Magazines had honoured two young women at the same time because both had “achieved tremendous success despite disabilities”.19

The Singapore government awarded Yip the Meritorious Service Medal while Tan was awarded the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) for their achievements at the Beijing Paralympic Games. The awards were presented by then President S. R. Nathan when he hosted the Paralympians to a reception at the Istana on 21 September 2008.20
In 2010, Yip was given Singapore’s highest youth accolade – the Singapore Youth Award (Sports and Adventure category). The award honours youths who have contributed significantly to society and achieved excellence in their professions.21

Belinda Chan

1. Tan Yo-Hinn, “Pin Xiu the Golden Girl,” Today, 16 September 2008, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Tan, “Pin Xiu the Golden Girl.” 
3. Tan, “Pin Xiu the Golden Girl.” 
4.  Sim Chi Yin, “Paralympians' Feats Inspire Entire Country,” Straits Times, 18 September 2008, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Tan Yo-Hinn, “A Welcome Back Fit for Stars,” Today, 19 September 2008, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Sim, “Paralympians' Feats Inspire Entire Country.”
7. Bernice Leong, “Faster, Higher, Stronger: Against All Odds,” Straits Times, 15 September 2008, 72. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Paralympics History,” International Paralympic Committee, n.d.
9. International Paralympic Committee, “Paralympics History.”
10. International Paralympic Committee, “Paralympics History.”
11. “London 2012 Paralympic Games,” International Paralympic Committee, n.d.
12. “Paralympic Games,” International Paralympic Committee, n.d.
13. Leong, “Against All Odds.” 
14. Grace Chua, “Not the Final Curtain Call Yet,” Straits Times, 7 March 2009, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “About Muscular Dystrophy,” Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore), 2009. 16. “Yip Pin Xiu,” Singapore Sports Council, 2010
17. “Yip Pin Xiu,” Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), n.d.
18. Sim Chi Yin, “‘I like the Way I Am Now. I Enjoy Being Me’,” Straits Times, 17 September 2008, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Zeinab Yusuf, “Her World Honours 3 Women,” Business Times, 7 March 2009, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Chua, “Not the Final Curtain Call Yet.” 
21. “4 Awarded Singapore's Highest Youth Accolade,” Channel NewsAsia, 4 July 2010. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)

The information in this article is valid as of 17 June 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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