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June 25, 2008
SINGAPORE SPORTS AWARDS
Easier done than worn for athletes
Tao Li and stars more at home in sports arena than in ballroom
By Marc Lim, Sports Correspondent
THE PRIDE OF SINGAPORE SPORTS: Swimmer Tao Li (Sportswoman of the Year) and the Lions (Team of the Year) were among 62 winners at the annual Singapore Sports Awards at the Marina Mandarin last night. -- PHOTOS: SHAHRIYA YAHAYA
DONNING the ultra-figure-hugging Speedo LZR swimsuits ranked as one of the toughest things swimmer Tao Li has to do in preparation for a big event.

Well, that was before she had to prepare for her night as Queen of Singapore sports.

After an hour making-up and making sure she looked her best for her coronation at last night's Singapore Sports Awards, the two-time Sportswoman of the Year is glad that gala dinners are a rarity in an athlete's life.

'Putting on the swimsuit takes half an hour, but getting ready for the awards ceremony takes even more work,' quipped the 18-year-old, who dazzled in a simple Donna Karan New York top and pants.

'Occasions like these are exciting, because they don't happen often. But don't ask me anything about dressing up. I needed my mother to help.'

She dominated with four golds at last year's South-east Asia Games and qualified for the 50m butterfly final in last year's Fina World Swimming Championships - accomplishments which helped her retain her sportswoman crown.

But Tao Li the confident swimmer was Tao Li the shy and reluctant winner yesterday, as she turned bright red with embarrassment when asked to pose with the Lions, the Team of the Year winners.

The butterfly specialist was not the only fish out of water at the Marina Mandarin ballroom, as Singapore toasted its best in sports' annual 'Oscars'.

Swopping sportswear for formal suits and gowns, a total of 62 winners were honoured in front of guest of honour and Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, and president of the Singapore National Olympic Council and Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean.

Raffles Junior College student Jonathan Koh would probably still not own a suit if he were not crowned Sportsboy of the Year yesterday.

But the 17-year-old shooter spent $200 of the $8,000 he picked up for the award on a smart suit from G2000.

Said the SEA Games air rifle double gold-medallist: 'It's the first time I'm attending such an award ceremony. It's an honour just being among Singapore's best.'

Last night also saw Dr Balakrishnan paying tribute to the collective effort which helped Singapore win the right to host the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympics.

In fact, Singapore's efforts in promoting youth sports were rewarded by the 2008 International Olympic Council's 'Sport and Youth' award, which Mr Teo presented to the Ministry of Education on the IOC's behalf last night.

But the main focus was still the celebration of the top sporting successes of 2007.

Not only did Singapore notched its best away SEA Games performance with 43 golds, but its athletes also made an impact on the world stage.

Tao Li became the first Singaporean to reach a world championship final and Sportsman of the Year Gao Ning became the first Singapore male to break into the top 10 of the world table tennis rankings.

While acknowledging the efforts of the athletes, Dr Balakrishnan gave a gentle reminder of the big assignment ahead - August's Olympic Games in Beijing.

He said: 'I am told that many of our Beijing-bound athletes are in the final stages of their preparation, and I am sure that I speak for all of us when I wish them all the best in Beijing.'

Indeed, this year's event may have lost some of its lustre given the absence of several winners, notably the table tennis team and the sailors.

Most of the sailors are in Germany preparing for the Olympics, while Gao Ning and Team of the Year (Events) members Li Jiawei, Wang Yuegu, Sun Beibei, Tan Paey Fern and Yu Mengyu are all in Japan for centralised training.

As Gao Ning summed up: 'Winning the award is a great honour. But, with the Olympics just around the corner, we have to prepare well.

'It's the pinnacle for all athletes and we'll be doing our best.'

marclim@sph.com.sg

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