Whilst the podium places and the medal sweeps might have garnered more attention over the last couple of years, its success has been built upon a longstanding focus on participation. Their Connect to Sailing programme has seen a massive uptake of kids and has been a huge contributing factor to their success internationally.
Not only is the growth in sailing great for the sport, but LOW is also keen to stress the benefits that sailing brings to the nation's youngsters, 'Singapore is an island nation and sailing brings our kids to the waters. They learn to interact with nature and pick up basic knowledge in geography and simple meteorology. It builds a child's confidence and teaches them independence.'
A large part of the success of SingaporeSailing's programmes can be attributed to the accessibility the sport has within the country.
'Sailing is recognized and available as a Co-curricular Activity (CCA) in schools,' explained LOW. 'SingaporeSailing, together with the Ministry of Education, worked hard for ten years in continuous promotion efforts to attain core sport status for sailing.
'Another avenue for participation is through member sailing clubs, where there are opportunities to pick up the sport. The facilities provided also make it easy for members to continue sailing. SingaporeSailing has been working with these clubs to promote sailing to their members.
As well as being popular with the kids, sailing also has to be popular with the schools. 'Sailing helps inculcate good character traits, keeps the children close to nature and is a healthy sport,' says LOW. 'They learn to make calculated decisions on their own, and become more aware of their surroundings. Our years of success have also helped in the promotion.'
Youngsters are attracted into the sport through promotion in schools, clubs and the media. Once they have had a go out on the water, most will continue to sail throughout school, progressing through the proficiency certification system, which SingaporeSailing adopted from the Royal Yachting Association, US SAILING and Canadian Yachting Association systems. A key challenge now is holding onto young sailors, 'We are looking hard at ways to maintain the kids' interest in sailing so that they do not stop enjoying the sport even after they leave school,' explains LOW.
The capacity at the National Sailing Centre demonstrates the success of the system. There are approximately 1,500 boats, including the Optimist, 420, 470, Byte, Hobie 16 and Laser, and 12 full-time coaches.
Where the Singapore system seems to have been particularly successful in recent years is in transferring school kids having fun into results gains in major events. LOW explains that the approach is to focus on more than simply developing individual sailing talents, but to build a framework in which success can flourish.
'Besides the effective systems and policies, there is a very good support network built around the sailors, where all stakeholders play an active part to keeping the momentum going. Apart from focussing on improving their sailing, we also encourage team-bonding, and that contributes to the close-knitted fraternity here. The kids work together, training hard and having fun at the same time.'
With so many sailors coming through the programme, there is a lot of pressure on finding and recruiting instructors. This is a problem that SingaporeSailing have taken a very proactive approach to solving. 'There are limited coaching resources in Singapore,' says LOW. 'To meet with this shortfall, we have created opportunities for sailors who have an interest in coaching by providing subsidies for training and development.
'We must first recognize each individual's passion for the sport. We then encourage them and provide the assistance and support they need. These young sailors often take on the job with great enthusiasm and passion.'The National Sailing Centre received SGD$3.6 million from the government for the year 2007 to continue its programme of developing sailing. LOW is keen to acknowledge this support is vital to the success of sailing in Singapore, but also indicated that new revenue possibilities are being explored.
'The Singapore government has been increasingly supportive towards sailing, and the majority of the funding comes from the government. The government, through the Singapore Sports Council also provides assistance in the areas of sports science, athletes' management, etc.
'We will soon be embarking on a sponsorship campaign to seek long-term partners who are interested to work with SingaporeSailing to bring sailing to greater heights.
Looking towards the future, LOW expects to see the sport continue to growth over the coming years.
'We aim to build a population of 5,000 sailors by 2010. This is an ambitious programme and it is being augmented with a proposal to have every child in their primary school life spend at least four days doing a course in sailing and learning oceanography, weather, winds, currents and tides - something everyone living on an island should be familiar with.'
As part of this goal, SingaporeSailing is launching an extension to their Connect to Sailing programme at Bedok Reservoir. Here they are creating a 'first experience' facility, with the underlying theory that a lake is less intimidating for first timers who have a natural fear of water. There is already a rowing centre at the reservoir, with the first sailing activities set to be launched in the middle of May. Connect to Sailing will be taking a closer look at the new project next week.
Singapore's recent sailing success story offers massive encouragement for fans of the sport worldwide. As a nation they have demonstrated what massive strides can be achieved over a relatively short space of time. One of the key ideas behind Connect to Sailing is to help the sport develop around the world by learning from some of our best practitioners - Singapore have shown that they fall amongst this category and are one of the nations at the forefront of the Asian sailing revolution.