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Singapore's first female Olympians feature in a documentary selected by the National Youth Film Awards

Singapore's first female Olympians feature in a documentary selected by the National Youth Film Awards

Star power

Text: Adibah Isa


The introduction of a new open category at the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) put’s Brenda Er’s film about Singapore’s first female Olympians back in the spotlight

Released in 2017, Brenda Er's short film (it runs for no more than 19 minutes) was what we exactly needed in an age where female empowerment is driving young girls to achieve what they put their hearts and minds to. While Joseph Schooling has made waves — quite literally — with campaigns for Hugo Boss, TAG Heuer and Canon since his historic gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, Er's film re-introduces the younger crowd to three key individuals: Tang Pui Wah, Mary Beatrice Klass and Janet Jesudason.

Tang Pui Wah

One of the 450 qualified entries received for the National Youth Film Awards, When The Stars Align briefly documents the journeys each of these Olympians took. With interviews interspersed with actual footage from the Olympics, the documentary also presents intimate photographs of the women in their teens. In 1952, Tang was the first female Singaporean to qualify for the Olympics after training hard at Raffles Institution. She competed in the high jump and long jump, 80m hurdles and the 100m. When she was selected for the games, she hadn't even seen one before — Tang didn't even have a television.

"I felt that I had a powerful energy that I was unable to express," Tang said in the documentary about her driv in the sport. Back then, there wasn't any video recording, so she couldn't even review her own performances — it was all based on photos. For Klass, Singapore's second female Olympian (she competed in the 100m and 200m), an interest in racing only began after reading an article about Tang in the newspaper. Now 81, the Olympian also trained at Raffles Institution, but will only do so after finishing all the housework that was required. Klass was recently featured in the music video reboot of the classic National Day song, 'We Are Singapore'.

Janet Jesudason and Mary Klass

Singapore's third female Olympian was nicknamed by her peers as "Speedy Gonzales". Jesudason competed in the 100m and recalls a Pierre De Coubertin (founder of the International Olympic Committee)'s quote that really made an impact: "The most important thing is not in the winning, but in the participating".

Check out the video for 'We Are Singapore'.

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