Michelle Sng became the first Singaporean woman to be crowned the high jump champion at the SEA Games since 1965, when an appeals jury awarded her a joint-gold medal – nearly a day after her event ended.
Vietnam’s Duong Thi Viet Anh is the other joint- gold medallist. The decision followed a protest lodged by Team Singapore after the event ended.
Sng and Vietnamese jumper Duong Thi Viet Anh had both cleared 1.83m on Thursday night and were told by officials if they would like to share first place, which both athletes agreed.
The high-jump bar and markers were removed to signal the end of the competition. Sng had also removed the spikes from her shoes and the tape that held her injured right knee in place.
But 10 minutes later, officials recalled both athletes for a jump off. Duong cleared 1.82m in the jump off while Sng was unsuccessful and thought she had won silver.
After a protest, a jury managed by the Malaysia Organising Committee for the Kuala Lumpur Games decided that both jumpers would share the gold.
Sng later revealed that the 19-hour wait for the final verdict had not been as nerve-racking as others might have expected, simply because her aim for these Games was just to compete. She admitted that she did not sleep well but it had more to do with the caffeine in her system and her tendency to rise early in the morning.
Before she knew of the protest, it was an emotional Sng who faced the media at Bukit Jalil National Stadium, as she spoke of her decision to retire at the very same place six years ago during a training stint.
Tearing up, she had said: “I reached my goal in starting the competition and anything else is a bonus. In 2011 I came to Malaysia to train… it was here in Bukit Jalil that I made the decision to retire.
“I hadn’t been back here even after my comeback (in 2014). It’s been six years, coming back here and to even start the competition means I’ve come full circle.”
The 30-year-old reiterated that the colour of the medal was not her priority.
Still, there is no denying what Sng had achieved is historic for Singapore athletics. Cheong Wai Hing was the last local woman to win Games gold in high jump, triumphing in 1965 when the biennial event was still called the South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games. At the 1975 Seap Games, Noor Azhar Hamid won the men’s title.
Sng revealed she was under a lot more pressure when she won a bronze at the last Games in 2015 but she was at peace with herself this time round.
“This time in KL it’s a lot more of a personal journey, and I guess it validates my decision to come back because I’ve sort of closed up that loop after having to leave the sport so heartbroken all those years ago,” added Sng, who holds the national high-jump record of 1.84m.
“I think (this) was probably my calmest-ever competition, I wasn’t giving myself any pressure to do a new personal best, break the national record or get onto the podium – I was just very happy to be competing.”
As Majulah Singapura reverberated around the stadium yesterday, she wept on the podium as the significance of her achievement sank in.
Sng, who shared a long hug with former coach Chan See Huey after the victory ceremony, later said: “I wasn’t even telling myself not to cry anymore because I knew it was going to happen.”
She also stressed that she welcomed the gold medal as an added bonus, saying: “The silver medal was really a bonus and this gold is just the cherry on top.”
(Text by Mark Cheong, Nicole Chia & Lester Wong, The Straits Times / Additional reporting by Natalya Molok)