A quiet love

FOR someone who pounds through the water with relentless speed, one wonders if former world’s fastest swimmer, Ang Peng Siong, also exhibits the same level of energy and confidence on land.

He does, but in a completely different way.

Like his father, the late Ang Teck Bee, Peng Siong is a man of few words. Unlike the ferocity he displays in the pool, Peng Siong is more subdued – reticent even – in real life. But, if you spend a little more time with him, you will realise that his reserved demeanour belies a sense of self-assuredness that speaks volumes of his character.

“My dad… was a man of action. He did things diligently in his own quiet manner. He was very busy as the pool supervisor of Farrer Park Swimming Complex, yet he always made time to coach me in swimming. I’m similar to him as I believe in talking less and just doing what needs to be done,” said the 54-year-old Singapore icon.

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Ang Peng Siong’s father, the late Ang Teck Bee (rightmost in picture), giving a group of boys swimming lessons at Farrer Park Swimming Complex.

It was this quiet work ethic that propelled Peng Siong to train hard when he studied at the University of Houston in the United States from 1980 to 1985.

“When I was studying overseas, parties were always held. However, because of my upbringing, I refrained from joining in. When I needed to train, I trained. When I needed to study, I studied,” he said.

His perseverance paid off. In 1982, Peng Siong put Singapore on the world map when he won the gold medal for the 50-metre freestyle event at the United States National Championship. This remained our national record for the next 33 years. 

That was perhaps his greatest gift to his dad – flying the Singapore flag high.

Teck Bee’s reaction to his son’s victory didn’t involve cries of joy; neither did it include displays of affection. Instead, he expressed his love by quietly keeping newspaper clippings of his son. Though simple, this act symbolised a father’s affection through unspoken words.

“At that time, the competition wasn’t live telecasted and phone calls were expensive, so my dad couldn’t call to ask about the results. The press called and informed him of my win. I knew, however, that he would collect the newspaper clippings of my win.

“I think he knew that there wasn’t a need to pressurise his children to perform. He was strict, but didn’t push me beyond my limits. So, I didn’t experience the kind of pressure that most of my contemporaries experienced growing up!” Peng Siong shared with a laugh.

When it comes to parenting, he follows in his father’s footsteps. Despite having made a name for himself in the water, he does not expect his 14-year-old son to chase the Olympic dream. Instead, he gives him the space and time to discover and develop his own talents.

The sporting giant said: “It’s also important to create an environment where he has friends to bond with. I don’t believe in being the typical ‘kiasu’ Singaporean parent.”

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Not your usual ‘kiasu’ Singaporean parents: Ang Peng Siong and his wife, Wendy Lee.

While a ‘kiasu’ parenting style may not be in the swimming coach’s books, Peng Siong takes great pride in ensuring that his son leads a healthy lifestyle, just as his father had instilled in him.

“When my dad was in his 70s, he had a few kakis of the same age who accompanied him to the gym. There, they did 100kg bench presses easily! I am inspired to follow in the same footsteps,” he added.

However when it comes to coaching his son in the pool, he laughed and said: “Not at the moment. Coaching your own child is tough. It requires a lot of scolding, so I leave it to the coaches.”

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Doting father: Peng Siong encourages his son to take on sport as a way of life, but from the sidelines, not as his coach.

As he spoke about his father and of being a father himself, Peng Siong is grateful to his father who, in his quiet, small acts of love, was a giant to him.

“I’m thankful to have had him as my father. Though he didn’t say much, you could tell that he cared for the family; he made sure that we had enough. It definitely wasn’t easy bringing up five children, and if I could, I would tell him today how appreciative I am for that.”

In that moment, a son’s love for his father rang loud and clear.

Read our previous #SportingStar story on Ms Grace Young: Bowled over by Grace Young

Article published on: 14/6/2017