With a blink of an eye, the 2015 SEA Games is over. I’m really having withdrawal symptoms now and I can’t believe that everything just flew by so quickly. It kinda feels like it was just yesterday that I was still 30 days away from SEA Games. Overall, competing in the 28th SEA Games in Singapore is by far the best competition experience of my life, and if I could turn back time, I would want to relive this moment again for sure.
The Singapore swimming team won a total of 23 Gold medals, surpassing the record of 21 Gold medals set many many years ago, and I feel really privilege to be part of this awesome team. This was by far the tightest team that I’ve been on and everyone has always had each others backs during the games, and that made a lot difference especially during the later days of the games when all of us were getting tired.
I personally performed at my best during the 28th SEA Games, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t solely because my own hard work. I’ll have to credit my success to the endless amount of support from family, coaches, friends, supporters and sponsors. They were the ones that gave me the extra motivation to strive for greater results, and I couldn’t thank them enough.
I ended off my SEA Games with 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal – which is why some of my friends call me the rainbow boy. After 4 SEA Games, I was finally able to clinch an individual Silver and Bronze medal for Singapore. However, it’s not the medals that I will remember in the future, it’s the process of getting those medals which really mean a lot to me. To be honest, winning those medals were exceptionally hard for me because I had mental obstacles coming into this SEA Games – Being into 3 editions of the SEA Games, I’ve never won an individual medal at all, so I’ve kinda set mental obstacles that winning an individual medal was practically impossible for me.
Thankfully, with the help of my coaches, parents and supporters, I was able to get out of that mental state and win individual medals for Singapore after 6 years of trying. You can read about my story on Yahoo news over here: Pang Sheng Jun ends wait for first individual SEA Games swimming medal
Of course, the process wasn’t easy, it took me quite a lot of courage and effort to get out of the ‘slump’ which I was in, and I am glad that I had a strong support group to get me out of my negative state.
Coach Sergio knew that I was mentally weak due to my past experiences, so he had ways to help tackle my mental obstacles, he says that it’s ‘training me to become a man’. Here’s one of the most memorable experience I had during my training session:
“Alright guys, 6x100m warm down and we’re done. We leave on the top.”
All of us put our goggles on and prepared to go.
“Not you, Pang, you stay right here.”
“For you, 5x400IM on 5:45, you leave on the next top.”
I started laughing because of how ridiculous it sounded.
“You think I’m joking? You’re leaving on the next top.”
I laughed more because I still didn’t believe him.
“… WTF Sergio are you serious?!” At this point in time, I wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Yes of course, I told you I wasn’t joking, 10 more seconds…”
I had no choice but to put my game phase on and start on my 5x400m set.
“Pang you done?”
“…Yes” I was panting heavily after the set.
“Ok, 200IM all out, we’re leaving on the top, you have a minute rest.”
I was dreading the set as I was already exhausted, but at that point of time I was too tired to even talk anymore so I just put my head down and gone for my 200IM all out.
Well guess what? I did pretty well in that all out effort. It was actually a personal best time for training and I just couldn’t believe what just happened. I even double checked the pace clock to see if Sergio was lying to me, but he wasn’t. It’s true that I actually set a personal best training time, and that was an amazing feeling.
This set really made me believe in what my body is truly capable of and it gave me so much more confidence for the SEA Games.
“Sergio, thank you so much for giving this set to me, though it was tiring, it was definitely worth it. I feel a lot more confident now, I know I’m capable of much more.”
“No worries Pang, you may think I’m picking on you, but I’m not. Trust me, I like you as a person, but I’m training you to become a man.” He winked at me.
So you can roughly imagine the training I was going through leading up to the SEA Games, and with that, I became a much tougher and confident person entering the games.
The Games started off well when we won comfortably in the 4x200m Freestyle relay, whereby I teamed up with Joseph Schooling, Danny and Zheng Wen to win a Gold medal for Singapore. It definitely gave me a huge confidence boost after winning the Gold medal, but that still didn’t remove the fear of not winning in my individual event.
The next event was the 400m Individual Medley, and if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that that is the event which I dread most as the 400m IM is probably the most physically demanding event for any swimmer. We didn’t have to swim heats in the morning as it was straight finals, but I still went to warm up in the morning to prepare for finals which was in the evening.
I dived into the pool and I kid you not – I was feeling like a rock in the pool. It was legitimately the worse day of my swimming career and I just couldn’t feel my strokes properly. I didn’t know what I did wrong because I slept well the night before my race, and I basically did everything I could to be in the best shape but it didn’t seem to be working. At this point of time I got really desperate as nothing seemed to be going my way, so I did something which was really stupid – I got up on the blocks, dived, and did a 400IM for time.
My experience? I touched the wall with a time of 5 minutes 2 seconds (5:02) and I was exhausted. To give you an idea on how bad 5:02 is, I have a personal best time of 4:28 and I could easily hold 5×400 IMs on 5:02s on a good day, so you can imagine the amount of stress I was feeling at that point of time, I just couldn’t believe how much of a low my body was hitting.
I came up to the pool and told coach Gary about my situation.
“What should I do G? (Gary) I feel like shit, should I do some core? What do I do to get my form back? I am honestly lost now.”
Gary just told me to relax, warm down and get out of the pool.
I got out of the pool and went back up to the spectator stands. When Coach Sergio saw me, he immediately told me to see him.
“Pang, why the hell did you do a 400IM for time for? Did I ever tell you to do something like that before?”
“No coach… But I just wanted to get my water feel back.”
“And what, you think a 400IM for time is going to get you your feel back?! Why are you doing this?”
I then explained to him that I’ve never performed well in an individual event for SEA Games before, and I just couldn’t see myself doing it in the finals.
“You know what? If I could knee you right now, I would, but I don’t want to injure you before finals tonight. Let me tell you this, you are going to swim well in the finals tonight and you’re going to go below 4:25. If you don’t, I’m going to kick your a**, trust me.”
To go below 4:25 was more than 3 seconds of my personal best time, that was pretty hard to believe at that point in time.
“How many 400IMs have you done in training before? Doing a 200m IM all out for time and setting a personal best, did you feel like shit that time as well? You were still able to step it up isn’t it? So how is this 400IM different?”
“You have to believe in yourself, stay the course, and do your best. Trust me you’re going to achieve great results.”
After his lecture, it reminded me of the tough times I had during training and that gave me my confidence back for the finals.
“Sorry about that Sergio, you’ll watch me do well tonight.”
The finals came and when my name was called, the stadium echoed with cheers that were for me. At that very moment, I felt a strong sense of National pride. All the negative thoughts just left my mind and all I wanted to do was to do all my fellow Singaporeans proud. With that amount of support that I was having, I just couldn’t let them down. This is our pool, our home, and I’m not giving up at the very last moment before my race.
When I was swimming my finals, I could literally hear the stadium cheering for Zheng Wen and I. In my whole swimming career, I have never heard such loud cheers when I was swimming. Swimmers usually aren’t able to hear the cheers coming from the crowd as the sound of waves usually blocks any sound that is coming from the surroundings, but during my 400m race, the cheers from the crowd was so loud that I could even hear them when I was swimming in the water. That definitely gave me the edge when I was at the final stages of my race. Just to emphasize on how much of a difference it made, I had a strong surge of adrenaline coming into the last 100m of my race:
Your cheers really made the difference when it came to this race, and I’m glad that I was able to win my first individual medal after 6 years of training.
Words can’t describe how I was feeling at this point in time, it was a strong mix of emotions – I was relieved that I finally won an individual medal for Singapore, and with the scoreboard showing “2nd place” beside my name, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only that, I touched with a time of 4:24.81, which was the time that Coach Sergio predicted I would go, the feeling was just surreal.
To touch 1st and 2nd for Singapore was a dream that Zheng Wen and I had coming into this SEA Games, and to be able to achieve our dream meant a lot to me. It was a pretty awesome feeling.
With that, my curse of no individual medals for 6 years was broken, and I carried on with that confidence to win another bronze medal for Singapore in the 400m Freestyle.
I could feel the amount of happiness that my parents and sisters were feeling after my races and that really made my whole SEA Games experience worthwhile. Ever since young, I’ve always strive to do my parents proud in whatever I do and seeing their happy faces makes me happy too. They’ve been through the tough times with me and I’m glad that they never gave up hope on me. I wouldn’t have been where I am today without their support.
This concludes my 2015 SEA Games experience. Great memories have been forged in this meet and it will definitely be remembered for a lifetime. I must say that I have dreaded the lectures and tough sessions from Coach Sergio and Gary at first, but I’m happy to say that all of it has finally paid off. I’ve mature a lot as a swimmer and person and I’m grateful for those who believed in me.
I hope my experience will inspire anyone whose going through a tough phase in your life. Anything is possible as long as we believe in ourselves. Always remember that no matter how hard or low your life may be, God always has a plan for you and everything happens for a reason. You have to believe in the process and stay the course. My swimming career wasn’t a smooth sail but I’m glad that I pulled through the tough times. Trust me, all the pain and hard work was worth it.
For those who never gave up in me, thank you so much.
To Adrian Seetho,
Thank you for being there for us throughout the whole of SEA Games to capture all these wonderful memories. Every photo holds a significant meaning to me and I’m glad that you were able to capture them so that these moments will never be forgotten.
Link to my races:
Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay
Men’s 400m Individual Medley
Men’s 400m Freestyle
Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay Victory Ceremony
Men’s 400m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony
Men’s 400m Freestyle Victory Ceremony
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