S’pore’s first female Olympian, Tang Pui Wah: “In life, you conquer one hurdle after another.”

She represented Singapore in the 1952 Summer Olympics.

By Joshua Lee | August 7, 2017

Less than two weeks away from the 29th Southeast Asian Games, Honour Singapore has posted a short video on Singapore’s first female athlete to qualify for the Olympics.

This video is part of a series by emerging filmmakers centred on the theme Honouring the Invisible People of Singapore.

Via Facebook.

Directed and produced by Brenda Er, the short clip features 83-year-old Tang Pui Wah, Singapore’s first female Olympian to represent Singapore in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland. 

She was only 19 at that time. Her achievement in representing Singapore in Helsinki earned Tang the nickname “Helsinki Girl”.

One year prior to the 1952 Summer Olympics, Tang swept the Malayan Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA) sports meet by winning gold medals for the 100-yard, 220-yard, and the 80-metre hurdles. 

Via Facebook.

Tang recounted to ActiveSG that the her performance at the MAAA was her proudest achievement to date.

“I wanted to discover the limits of my abilities.”

Speaking candidly to Er, Tang reminisced about how her shy, introverted personality led her to taking up high-jumping and hurdling.

“While waiting for the school bus, there was nothing to do. I was usually alone; hardly communicated with anyone,” she said.

She started out by setting a lower bar for herself, and with each successful jump, would tell herself that she would jump higher the next day.

“I wanted to discover the limits of my abilities,” Tang added.

Via Facebook. Tang is the lady on the right.

As any athlete can identify with, sporting brought a sense of joy to Tang.

“I enjoyed hurdling the most, because it gave me a sense of bliss,” Tang recounted with a twinkle in her eye. “When you cross a hurdle, you will feel euphoric.”

A world of difference

Unlike the athletes of today, athletes of the past didn’t have what the sportsmen of today have.

“Back then, there was no videography,” Tang said, “and I was unable to review my performance.”

“Sometimes, we would see someone jump a certain way. or do certain exercises….we simply followed whoever did it better,” laughed Tang. “We were all self taught.”

Always victorious 

Despite that, Tang exudes a gung-ho spirit that is nothing short of inspiring.

“I was always challenging myself,” she shared. “Whatever my teacher taught me, I emulated, and I would train even harder.”

“If I was asked to run three times, I would run four times; always a little bit more effort.”

Tang ended the video with a rather poignant observation about the similarities between hurdling and life.

Tang today. Via Facebook.

“If there are several hurdles in front of you, don’t be scared. In life, you conquer one hurdle after another. So, I’m not afraid of difficulties.”

Truly an inspiring pioneer indeed.

Watch Er’s short film on Tang Pui Wah below:

Head here to watch the rest of the series.


Top images from Honour Singapore’s video, When The Stars Align, directed and produced by Brenda Er.

1819 is a labour of love by Mothership.sg where we tell stories from Singapore’s history, heritage & culture. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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