The unwavering spirit of discus legend James Wong

The unwavering spirit of discus legend James Wong

SINGAPORE: Multiple SEA Games gold medallist James Wong recently shared about his courageous fight against cancer since the beginning of 2023 while embarking on an inspiring project to chronicle his remarkable sporting achievements in a forthcoming book. Diagnosed with stage two bile duct cancer in early February, Wong underwent an extensive 11-hour Whipple surgery at the end of that month and subsequently completed eight cycles of chemotherapy over seven months.

The 54-year-old, who won 10 SEA Games gold medals between 1993 and 2011, draws upon his former national teammate Kenneth Khoo’s experience for his upcoming book. Khoo had previously written ex-national 100m record holder Shyam’s book ‘Running on Empty: The Story Behind 0.01s’, published in 2018.

“I first thought of doing a book a few years ago after seeing other ex-athletes like U. K. Shyam and Joscelin Yeo write theirs, and I thought it would be a good way to share our stories to the younger generation. At the time, however, there were a lot of other things going on in my life, and I wasn’t so sure about what I could write about that people did not already know. But after I got cancer, I thought to myself: It’s time,” shared Wong, who still holds the Singapore national records in discus (59.87m) and the hammer (58.20m), both set in 1999.

Khoo, a 4 x 400m relay bronze medal winner at the 2011 SEA Games, feels that James’s book will be an inspiration and a reminder of his unwavering dedication to the sport and his admirable resilience in the face of adversity.

“To many of us athletes who reached our athletic maturity in the 1990s and 2000s, James is a larger-than-life figure. Even when athletics was not doing well, he was going against the grain and consistently delivering gold medals for Singapore, so he was someone we all looked up to. This book will be a way for him to frame his career as an athlete, and how he has used it to fight a different battle,” said Khoo.

Wong has amassed a remarkable 16 medals (see medal table below) from the SEA Games, comprising 10 gold, 4 silver, and 2 bronze medals. Among his 10 gold medals, nine are from his signature discus event, with the remaining one coming from the hammer throw. His silver medal tally includes three from the hammer throw and one from discus. His bronze medals consist of one each from discus and shot put events.

Wong’s first SEA Games medal in the discus event came in 1987 when he secured third place with a score of 44.82m. His maiden gold medal arrived in the 1993 SEA Games with a throw of 49.02m. The former national team athlete’s final SEA Games gold medal in the discus event came in 2011, with a throw of 51.32m. His sole gold medal from the hammer event was achieved at the 1997 SEA Games.

His achievements established him as one of Singapore’s most decorated track and field athletes at the regional biennial multi-sport Games. Wong’s gold medal haul in the discus event also put him on par with Myanmar’s shot put star of the 1970s and 1980s, Jennifer Tin Lay, for the most gold medals won by any individual in a track and field event at the regional Games.

Following his illustrious sporting career, Wong transitioned into coaching, mentoring several local track and field athletes, including Hannah Lee. Under his guidance, Lee went on to secure a bronze medal at the 2015 SEA Games, marking the last time Singapore clinched victory in that event.

“Over the past year, I have used what I learnt from my sporting career to overcome the difficulties I have encountered in my cancer journey. I hope that I can share my experiences to help people who are facing problems in their lives, be it cancer or anything else, to improve their situations. This is a chance to spread awareness and remind people to do their regular checkups. Don’t think just because you are active, you’re an athlete or whatever, that you’re Superman and you can’t get sick,” added Wong, who remains the only Singaporean male to hold a SEA Games athletics record, with his 59.50m discus throw at the 1999 Games in Brunei.

Wong said he is seeking donors to help raise funds for the book. Proceeds from the sales, combined with the raised funds, will be allocated to support cancer organisations dedicated to aiding cancer patients and their families. Those who wish to know more and are interested in contributing can reach Wong at  [email protected].

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