Patricia Chan Li-Yin
Trailblazing swimmer and Singapore’s first Golden Girl
She is known as Singapore’s first Golden Girl, and for good reason. Swimmer Patricia Chan Li-Yin won gold in every one of the 39 events she entered at the Southeast Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games between 1965 and 1973. No silvers, no bronzes, just pure gold. This remarkable feat has never been matched.
Pat began her golden sweep when she was just 11, winning gold in each of her eight events at the 1965 SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore had separated from Malaysia just a few months earlier and as she stood on the winners’ rostrum again and again while the Singapore flag was raised and Majulah Singapura played, Pat became for many a symbol of the newly independent nation – young, disciplined and determined to succeed.
She continued her golden trail at the next four SEAP Games, winning 10 gold medals in Bangkok in 1967, 10 in Rangoon (1969), five in Kuala Lumpur (1971), and six in Singapore (1973). Pat also took part in the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games, winning silvers and bronzes, and in the Olympics in 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich).
Pat, the most accomplished in a family of talented swimmers, began training at the age of 9. Coached by her father Dr Chan Ah Kow, she and her three brothers followed a rigorous schedule. They woke at 4.30am every morning and, after climbing over the walls of the Chinese Swimming Club to get to the pool, began their training at 5am in the dark. After school it was back to the pool again at 5pm for a couple more hours of training.
Their father-coach developed pioneering training methods, to build muscle and cardio-vascular strength and to improve stroke technique, which were tested and used successfully by his children and other swimmers under his charge. The family home was often host to swimmers from around the region who came to train with the family or compete in Singapore.
The Singapore National Olympic Council started the annual Sportswoman of the Year award in 1967, and Pat won it for five consecutive years, from 1967 to 1971. In 1999 The Straits Times named her as one of Singapore’s 50 greatest athletes, and the top woman athlete, of the 20th century.
In 1973, at the age of 19 and after having dominated regional swimming for a decade, Pat retired from competitive swimming. In 1978 she began her career in publishing as a writer at the entertainment magazine Fanfare. She soon became the first editor of Go!, a lifestyle magazine for young women, and in 1984 she was appointed creative director of Times Periodicals. She now has her own media and communications consultancy. An accomplished jazz singer, Pat performs to raise funds for charity.
"After years of drilling, driving, discipline, feeling that you have to be the best, you don’t actually get off the trip when you leave it. You carry the same discipline for the rest of your life." "We were very proud, with our own uniforms, marching with our own flag. Everyone was very nationalistic, very proud to be a Singaporean since we had just gained independence."
Pat Chan speaking in 1984 about taking part in the 1965 SEAP Games