Youth: ACS, SWIFT & the 1954 Asian Games
My father studied at the Anglo-Chinese School, Barker Road in Singapore. By the time he was 15, he was already well-known as an athlete. The 1950s were marked by hundreds of medals and throphies, too many to mention here. Perhaps above all else, he will be remembered as the 1954 Asian Games silver medalist for the 400m Hurdles.
However, those who really knew Onn Leng know that the 400m Hurdles was just one of the many athletic events he excelled in, and that prior to 1954, he had already won many local and interstate althletic competitions. Apart from athletics, my father was also an excellent student academically. He regularly got top grades for most subjects (except for Chinese language, which for some reason our family has never been too proficient in...) One of ACS' top students, he scored eight distinctions at Senior Cambridge and went on to pursue medical studies. He also loved drawing and designed for the school magazine. A particular cartoon character he loved doodling was Casper.
It is not possible to do justice to my father's achievements in athletics, academia, and art in this website. All those trophies and medals and awards... I have selected a few to be pictured here just to give a idea of what they are like; they are but the tip of an iceberg! In those days (with few exceptions), the medals awarded were in solid sterling silver for first prize. The trophies were mostly high quality EPNS; as kids, my sister and I spent hours and hours polishing them to a bright shiny gleam, a whole cabinet full of them.
The one below is a unique silver medal with coloured enamel coat-of-arms and is engraved on the reverse: "CHAN ONN LENG/ 440 53.9 SEC. A.C.S./ 880 2 M 5.5 SEC. INTER SCHOOL/ 4 X 110 RELAY TEAM M.A.A.A. 45.1/ 1952"
This is an exceptionally beautiful high-relief sterling silver medal dated 1953. Awarded for winning the 4 x 440 Yards Relay. It is 45 mm in diameter and weighs about 55.9 gms. This Singapore Amateur Athletic Association medal has a different reverse from the others.
This is a Singapore Amateur Athletic Association sterling silver medal dated 1954. Awarded for winning the 440 Yards Event. This seems to be the more common reverse.
1954 Asian Games, Manila, Philippines (II Asiad)
400m Hurdles Silver Medalist
"Despite being more of a 100m and 200m sprinter, Chan's crowning achievement in athletics came when he won the silver in the 400m hurdles for Singapore in a time of 54.8 secs at the 1954 Manila Asian Games." Ivan Goh, Lasting Strides (2007).
Out of the 218 medals for the Games, Singapore won 8: 1 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze.
The SWIFT Days...
Founded in 1947, the SWIFT Athletes Association is the oldest althletic club in Singapore. My father was very active in the association, serving as Committee Member during its early years. Ivan Goh describes his memories of my father as an athlete:
"My father coached your dad in ACS and had a close relationship with your father. Your dad was a scholar and top athlete in ACS and was an idol for the younger ACS boys like myself. I was a young boy when your dad used to come over to our house for Swift Athletes Association meetings in the early 60s riding his motorbike! I was informed that he designed the Swift logo."
If you do a Google Search on Chan Onn Leng, you will be surprised at the results. Here is one of the earliest references:
CHAN ONN LENG (Singapore) clears away from his Fijian rival T. Naldole, at the last hurdle to win the 440 yards hurdles at the Malayan A.A.A. championships in 56 seconds, a new record. (The Straits Times, 20 August 1952; p.11)
It could be said that the 1950s were the pinnacle of my father's athletic years; even as an undergraduate in the late 50s, he continued to excel and won university colours in athletics, as well as in hockey and rubgy. And still, he breezed through medical school and thus entered a new era in his life...