skip to content

Weightlifter Tan beats pain barrier for Singapore's first medal

08 Sep 1960
Rome 1960, Weightlifting, Singapore

The former British colony of Singapore had been awarded the right to self-government in 1959, and at Rome 1960 its athletes were competing under their own flag for the first time. It was a proud moment, and what better way to celebrate the achievement than with a medal.

Known as “Tiger”, weightlifter Tan Howe Liang had first taken an interest in his sport after watching a contest at an amusement park. He had to hold down one, and sometimes two, jobs to fund his training, but was determined to fulfil the promise he had made to his father that he would become “the strongest man in the world”.

Tan had competed at the Games four years earlier, and had finished in a creditable ninth, but it was clear that he had taken a big step forward since then. In 1958, he set a world lightweight record with a lift of 347 pounds in the jerk at the Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games). He also won the Asian Games title, and arrived in Rome with the confidence of a champion.

The first round was the military press, which was won by the Soviet Union's Viktor Bushuyev. Tan finished joint fourth, and then came joint fifth in the snatch. That put him in third place overall with one event to go – the clean and jerk, which was his speciality.

By now it was clear that Bushuyev would take gold. But who would take silver? Tan felt pain in his legs, but ignored advice to pull out and seek medical treatment, promptly lifting 155kg, more than any of his rivals, including Bushuyev. It was enough to hand him the silver and Singapore could celebrate its first Olympic medal. The country had to wait almost half a century, until 2008, for its next one. The bronze medal went to Iraq's Abdul Wahiz Aziz, who remains his country’s only Olympic medal winner.

back to top Fr