How does victory smell like? Ask any sportsman and he’ll tell you it’s a mix of sweat, blood and tears. Today, however, victory has taken on the heady notes of rubber wafting from exercise mats and the metallic zing of iron and steel. That’s because Harper’s BAZAAR has descended on a vast gymnasium tucked away in the eastern corner of Singapore.
It’s a fitting backdrop for this cover shoot with six winning athletes from Singapore’s national squad who bagged top honours at the SEA Games. The faces you see here belong to some of the very names that made waves during those 12 days of intense competition: squash player Marcus Phua; water-skier Mark Leong; taekwondo’s Kang Rui Jie; floorball captain Muhammad Syazni bin Ramlee; and waterpolo giants Eugene Teo and Paul Tan.
Now, barely weeks after the flames went out in spectacular style at the Games, BAZAAR’s chosen league of champions are working up a different sort of magic. As the afternoon’s sunlight streams past the heavy-duty bars and ropes installed inside the gymnasium, the guys are dressed in the smartest suits, their chiselled looks heightened by a dignified boost of sartorial formality. Slung proudly across the sportsmen’s muscled chests are the coveted symbols of their valiant achievements: Shiny gold circular discs that have their sport discipline and achievement inscribed on them.
Catching the light as the photographer guns for that winning shot, the gold medals are but a small portion of Singapore’s impressive haul at the 28th edition of the Games. Coming in second on the gold medal tally after Thailand, this tiny red dot bagged a “historic” record of 259 medals (84 gold, 73 silver and 102 bronze), eclipsing the previous record of 164 medals when Singapore last hosted the prestigious sporting event in 1993.
“Team Singapore has put in fantastic efforts to make this a successful SEA Games. Besides the medal achievements, 25 Games, 29 National and 74 Personal Best (across six disciplines) records were achieved by our athletes,” says the contigent’s Chefs de Mission Dr Tan Eng Liang and Nicholas Fang. “They have inspired the entire nation repeatedly over the past 18 days. What a great way to mark Singapore’s jubilee!”
In person, Kang Rui Jie’s pint-sized stature belies the powerful precision with which he executes his moves. “I never allowed my size to limit what I can achieve,” says the mild-mannered 20-year-old. If anything, Rui Jie has proven himself to be a worthy threat on the arena, whose solid foundation in taekwondo has lent an intensity and fluidity to his movements that can be best described as poetry in motion.
Rui Jie’s beginnings in the sport follows the proverbial tale of the hero whose unflinching determination eventually sets him on the path to greatness. “My parents didn’t want me to join taekwondo at first because it seemed like a rough sport and they were worried I’ll get into fights,” the 20-year-old explains. “But I’d run out of the house to follow the weekly lessons conducted in the multi-purpose hall just under my block. I’d practise by the side and I was doing it so often, my parents finally relented and allowed me to join under one condition—that I will not give up halfway. Today, they’re my biggest supporters.”
It couldn’t have been more different for Marcus Phua, whose entry into the world of squash is the result of weekend trips to the court with his father and his friends. “You can say that my dad is my first coach who taught me everything I needed to know about squash,” the 26-year-old full-time auditor recalls. From the time he picked up the racket at age 10 to when he first tasted the bitterness of defeat, Marcus has always remembered his father’s words: “Just do your best and enjoy the game.”
ON HIGHER GROUND
Imagine this: You’re standing before a crowd of hundreds—thousands, maybe—and your every move is being watched. Your goal is in sight, and like a scene out of a movie, the world around you slows down, fades into silence and the only sounds you hear are your thoughts and heartbeat. It’s intense. That state of mind during this crucial moment before the whistle blows can determine a win-or-lose situation.
It’s also been called the “zone,” where athletes psych themselves up before stepping on to the battlefield. “I get there by focusing on the basics like my legwork, awareness in the game and reading how we’re going to play the game. Every bit adds up to a lot to benefit your mental state and well-being,” says Paul Tan. As a water polo player who has spent a decade with the team, the 30-year-old knows that sports is as much a test of the mind as it is of the body. “The mind is constantly thinking and evolving. We can harness that power and will ourselves,” the handsome teacher adds.
That explains why athletes are known to develop their own set of routines before the start of every competition. It’s not uncommon to see them plugged into headphones to block out any distraction. For Mark Leong, however, that method is counter-productive. “I’d listen to music whenever I felt nervous back when I was still training. That’s the first thing I’d do. But over the years, I’ve been associating nervousness with music, so if I listen to music right before a competition it gets me anxious. So I’ve shoved that aside now, and it actually helps,” says the 17-year-old water-skier, who sped past the competition and clinched the title for Singapore at the slalom event. In order to best show his skills on the water, Mark has developed his own method to cut out any unnecessary noise: “You know how people shadow box, right? What I’d do is to tie my rope to a tree and I walk as if I’m water skiing. I visualise as if I’m really on the water.”
TAKING THE LEAD
As captains of the waterpolo and floorball teams respectively, Eugene Teo and Muhammad Syazni bin Ramlee naturally carry more weight on their shoulders. Besides ensuring team morale is always high, they have to ensure discipline within the members. “It’s a love-hate relationship. I hate [the word] ‘discipline,’ but I have to attend to it because we want discipline while we’re training,” Eugene says. Describing himself as a “relaxed” captain who has faith in his teammates when it comes to putting in their utmost efforts in and out of the pool, the 28-year-old hulk adds: “I want to push myself too, and in a team sport, that is also expected of everyone.”
It also helps when you have someone to look up to. “My sporting idol is Rasmus Enstrom from Sweden. He’s in the country’s national floorball team and is also the captain in the club he’s playing at,” Syazni says. Playing in a team has taught him to be frank and to leave no men behind, but when it comes to approaching the role of captaincy with style and that little bit of humour, the 24-year-old does it with flair. Nicknamed “The Hair,” his love for a good haircut is matched with his love for the sport. The best part? He never steps onto the court with a strand of hair out of place. “I think I’ve had five or six hairstyles over the years,” he jokes. “When I play, my hair also becomes one of my priorities. I always ensure that it looks good.” A sportsman with flair on and off the courts? A clear winner, if you ask us.
Stylist: Windy Aulia
Makeup: Rick Yang/FAC3INC using Tom Ford
Hair: Ken Hong/Evolve Salon using John Frieda
Producer: Dana Koh
Makeup assistant: Joanne Ong
Photography assistants: Ang Jong Jye, Samsidi Baderi
Assistant stylist: Debby Kwong
Additional assistance: Lara Benjamin, Shireen Marican, Clara Tan
Special thanks to CrossFit Mobilus
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of BAZAAR Man.