New Paper Oct 15, 2007 Lim Han Ming The Electric New Paper : FOREIGN LEGION Every Sunday in the Singapore At Large series, The New Paper profiles the Singapore sports scene with a national or grassroots perspective. Today, LIM HAN MING looks at the rising number of foreign coaches in the local sporting scene MENTION foreign talent in Singapore sports and the names of the foreign-born athletes just roll off the tongue. Over the years, paddlers Jing Junhong and Li Jiawei have served their adopted country with distinction in major competitions. Ditto for shuttlers Li Li and Ronald Susilo. The Football Association of Singapore also has its fair share of foreign talent in Shi Jiayi, Mustafic Fahrudin, John Wilkinson, Agu Casmir and Precious Emuejeraye. The list goes on. But behind these foreign-born athletes is a group of unsung heroes whose contributions to their adopted country have often gone unnoticed. They are the foreign coaches who work behind the scenes to nurture and develop the next generation of sporting champions. Last month, the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) paid tribute to the outstanding coaches in Singapore at the annual Coaching Recognition Awards (CRA) at Fort Canning Park. Among the winners are a group of foreign coaches who have been instrumental in developing talent from the grassroots to the elite level. Three of them, all from China - swim coach Jin Xiao Li, table tennis coach Wang Xiao Ke and shooting coach Zhang Shao Ying - are already Singapore citizens. PERMANENT RESIDENTS There were five other award recipients who are permanent residents - athletics coach Guo Huai Yun (China), gymnastics coach Wang Yong Fa (China), swim coach Fang Xin (China), fencing coach Bobok Viacheslav (Russia), and hockey coach Jude Felix Sebastian (India). A check with the SSC revealed that there are about 50 foreign coaches among the 1,700 registered coaches in the National Registry of Coaches. Some of them were former coaches at the national level. Even when their services were no longer needed, they chose to stay on instead of packing their bags for home. One of them is former national throws coach Guo, who coached the first batch of foreign-born throwers brought in by the Singapore Athletic Association in 2000. His services were terminated in February 2004 and he joined Hwa Chong Institution in October that year. One of his star athletes is Scott Wong, who is the national schools' discus and shot put champion. The 16-year-old said of his coach: 'Under Guo, my distances increased exponentially. I was throwing about 30 metres in the discus when he took over. At the start of 2005, I was hitting over 40m.' Table tennis coach Wang is another former national coach who has pledged his future to Singapore. Before coming to Singapore in 1993, Wang, 53, was the head coach of the Liaoning province team. After he left the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) in 1996, Wang went into coaching at the schools level. Some of the schools he is coaching are Chongfu Primary School, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, St Joseph's Institution and Nanyang Polytechnic. CONTRIBUTE He told The New Paper: 'I decided to stay on after leaving the STTA in 1996 because I felt that I still could contribute to table tennis in Singapore. 'The only problem is that there is a lack of training facilities in schools. Most of the time, we have to share the assembly hall with badminton, wushu or Chinese dance.' Gymnast Timothy Tay Kai Cheng is now a member of the national junior team, thanks to his coach Wang Yong Fa. Said the 14-year-old: 'Mr Wang is a very patient coach and has always been very encouraging. 'Even when we are not training, he goes that extra mile for us whether it is our studies or our personal lives. 'Under his guidance, I was able to enter the national junior team. 'I will always remember him as my coach, mentor and friend.' Singapore Sports School student Victoria Chan, 16, also credited her coach Andras Sigmond for her winning the girls' title at the Laser 4.7 World Championships in France last year. Sigmond, also affectionately known as 'Giba' among his sailors, has worked in Singapore for seven years. A Laser coach with the Singapore Sailing Federation, the 61-year-old Hungarian coached both Victoria and Colin Cheng to the girls' and boys' titles at the Laser 4.7 World Championships in France last year. Sigmond also coached the Laser pair of Cheng and Maximillian Soh to the gold medal in the Laser Standard event at the 2006 Doha Asian Games. It is the second year in a row that he has received the Coach Recognition High Performance Coaching Award (Senior Competitions). Chan said: 'Giba's unwavering motivation and encouragement during the Laser 4.7 World Championships in France last year was pivotal to our success.' Like it or not, foreign talent is here to stay. So are the foreign coaches. Stevenson Lai, SSC's deputy director of coaching programmes and technical development, said: 'Foreign coaches, like their local counterparts, have contributed greatly to the development of sports in Singapore. 'They help to develop our local capabilities by sharing training methods and technical skills with the local coaches.'