Tan Howe Liang
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At the opening of the YOG Learning Centre, 30 October 2008
5 May 1933 |
Shantou, Guangdong, China
|Achievements and titles|
|Olympic finals||Silver medallist, (weightlifting, in the class to 67.5 kg)
1960 Summer Olympics
Tan Howe Liang, PJG (simplified Chinese: 陈浩亮; traditional Chinese: 陳浩亮; pinyin: Chén Hàoliàng; born 5 May 1933 in Shantou, Guangdong, China) is a Singaporean weightlifter who was the first Singaporean to win an Olympic Games medal. He did this in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome where he won the silver medal in the lightweight category. Tan also broke the oldest-standing world record in the lightweight category in the clean and jerk in 1958. He was the only Singaporean Olympic medalist until the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Tan was born on 5 May 1933, in Swatow, China, where he was the third of eight siblings. When he was four years old, he emigrated with his family to settle in Singapore, where he grew up in Chinatown. Tan's Teochew father died when Tan was 14. Tan left school after his first year at a secondary school.
Tan's weightlifting career started when he walked past the former World Amusement Park with his friends one day. There, Tan witnessed his first weightlifting competition and became intrigued with the sport.
Tan showed potential for weightlifting. After one year of training, Tan, then 20, became the national junior and senior champion in the lightweight division in 1953.
The lack of financial support meant that Tan had to pay out of his own pocket to finance his training and expenses. At that time, Tan was working as a clerk at Cathay Organisation. He also worked as a mechanic. However, he plodded on, after promising his late father that "One day, I will be the strongest man in the world".
However, Tan tasted defeat at the 1956 Summer Olympics. After lifting 236.75 pounds in the press, Tan attempted to lift a weight five pounds heavier, but blacked out and narrowly escaped injury. After he was revived, he was advised to retire by the team manager, but refused. He went on to lift 220.75 pounds for the snatch and 314 pounds for the clean and jerk to earn ninth place.
In 1958, Tan established a world record with a lift of 347 pounds in the jerk for the lightweight division at the 6th British Empire and Commonwealth Games, now known as the Commonwealth Games, in Cardiff. He also won a gold at the 3rd Asian Games in Tokyo that year. In 1959, Tan won a gold medal at the inaugural Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (Seap Games), now known as the (Southeast Asian Games) in Bangkok.
On 8 September 1960, Tan made another attempt at the Olympics in Rome. In the lightweight category (60–67.5 kg) competition held at the Palazetto Dello Sports Hall, Russia's Viktor Bushuev had already won the gold by breaking the world record. It was down to Tan and Iraq's Abdul Wahid Aziz for the silver medal. Tan had one clean and jerk lift left when he felt some pain in his legs. The doctors advised that he return to the Athlete's Village for treatment, which would have meant a withdrawal from the competition. However, Tan did not give up and competed to claim the silver medal. He lifted a total of 380 kg to beat 33 rivals for second place.
Life after the Olympics
Tan tried to run a restaurant business but was unsuccessful. He worked as a taxicab driver for a short stint, before becoming a weight-lifting coach in 1974. After his retirement from competition, Tan was hired as a gym supervisor by the Singapore Sports Council at the Kallang Family ClubFitt in November 1982.
Tan's Olympic medal made him the only Singaporean to have won a medal at all the major international games — the SEAP Games (predecessor of the SEA Games), the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games for 48 years. He also became the first weightlifter in the world to be awarded the International Weightlifting Federation (national honour) Gold Award in 1984. In Singapore, Tan was the only athlete to be bestowed the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) at the National Day awards.
On 26 June 1996, a commemorative medallion set by the Singapore Mint was launched to celebrate the 1996 Olympic Games at Atlanta. It features Tan on one side of the medallion, showing him getting ready to lift weights. When the image is tilted to a certain angle, the picture would show him having lifted the weights. Izzy, the official mascot of the Atlanta Olympics, is featured as a three-dimensional image on the other side of the medallion.
In 1999, Tan was nominated for the "Spirit of the Century" award. In the same year, he was also nominated for "Singapore's Greatest Athlete" award, but conceded the award to former badminton champion, Wong Peng Soon, who was a four-time winner in the All England Open Badminton Championships in the 1950s. Tan was featured in Time's "Millennium" series on Singapore sporting greats in 1999.
In 2000, McDonald's sponsored Tan's trip to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where he joined the Singapore contingent and attended the weightlifting competition. McDonald's also donated S$10,000 with the aim to help revive the sport of weightlifting in Singapore. McDonald's also featured a two-minute special television commercial, titled "We Can Do It", featuring Tan's silver medal-winning feat at the 1960 Rome Olympics. The commercial re-enacts the different stages of Tan's life, from childhood to his triumph at the Olympics.
Tan is a humble man who never complained. Compared to the present day where Singapore athletes are promised a reward of S$1 million for winning a gold medal at the Olympics, Tan did not receive any monetary rewards for his effort in 1960.
Tan was given the honour of being the flagbearer at the closing ceremony of the National Stadium on 30 June 2007. The leotard and belt which Tan wore during his 10½-hour competition in Rome were put on display in a glass case in the Singapore Sports Council's Sports Museum at the National Stadium.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Singapore's table tennis players Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu won the silver medal in the women's team category, ending Tan's 48-year status of being the sole Singaporean Olympic medalist. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Feng's bronze medal in the women's singles table tennis event meant that Tan was no longer the only Singaporean with an individual Olympic medal.
|1958 Cardiff||6th Commonwealth Games||Lightweight 790/358||Gold|
|1958 Tokyo||3rd Asian Games||67.5 kg (375.0 pts)||Gold|
|1959 Bangkok||1st SEAP Games||Lightweight 815/369.6||Gold|
|1960 Rome||17th Olympic Games||Lightweight||Silver|
|1962 Perth||7th Commonwealth Games||Middleweight 860/390||Gold|
- Teng, Sharon. "Singapore Infopedia: Tan Howe Liang". National Library Board. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2007.
- Lim Han Ming (20 July 2007). "Singapore's only Olympic medallist". The New Paper.
- "Courageous bid". The Straits Times. 25 November 1956. Archived from the original on 7 December 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Lim, Rebecca. "Singapore's Olympic gold chase a hurdles race". BBC News. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- "China beats Singapore for women's table tennis gold". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Chen, May. "Olympics: Feng wins Singapore's 1st individual medal in 52 years". The Straits Times. Retrieved 5 December 2014.