Chee Swee Lee
First Singaporean woman to win an athletics gold at the Asian Games
Her promise was apparent when she was in primary school. She started running when she was 10, and just a year later she was the national primary school champion in the 100m and 200m sprints. By the time she was 14, Chee Swee Lee, under the careful eye of renowned coach Patrick Zehnder, was representing Singapore at regional meets.
At the 1969 SEAP Games in Yangon, Myanmar, Swee Lee won a silver medal in the 400m race. She won silver again in the 1971 Games, and in the 1973 Games. And then she really hit her stride.
At the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, Swee Lee did what no Singapore woman had ever done before in the Asiad track and field events – she won gold.
Before the race, sports fans back in Singapore already had high hopes because Swee Lee had, the previous day, won her 400m heat with the fastest time of 55.67 seconds. In the final, Swee Lee clocked 55.08, smashing the Asian Games record and sealing her place in Singapore’s sports history. She was, naturally, named Sportswoman of the Year at the annual awards for 1974.
The following year, at the 1975 SEAP Games in Bangkok, Swee Lee again won gold in the 400m. She then set her sights on the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. But it was not to be. An injury just before the Games flared up and she could not complete her 800m heat.
Fellow track star C Kunalan was once asked about what stood out for him about Singapore athletics. His answer: “As for significant moments in Singapore's athletics history, I would single out Chee Swee Lee winning the 400m gold in the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran. Outstanding! I know how much she sacrificed and trained.”
Swee Lee moved to the US where she took part in college and club competitions, doing well enough to garner athletic scholarships that saw her through university. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the California State Polytechnic University. While living in California, she was involved with the coordination of American athletes competing in events in China and other parts of Asia.
Now living in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her American husband, Swee Lee is a real estate agent and is active in the Singapore Association of Nevada.
"Athletics has helped me build up a more positive outlook in life. I am able to understand the problems of friends. Winning all the laurels in international meets isn’t everything. Being able to give and take is more important."