Winning gold at the SEA games for an obscure sport

10 July 2023

“I surfaced from the pool to loud cheers, crushing hugs and elated faces – it was 2019, seconds after we’d just won gold in underwater hockey for Singapore at the SEA games.

The magnitude of the moment cannot be understated – it was the first time the sport was included in the SEA games, 15 years after it was first introduced here. International media even dubbed it the “next Olympic sport”.

That night, amidst the celebration of our two golds, each won by the women’s and men’s teams, my captain received a phone call.

It was from a local news reporter. “I’m so sorry, we hadn’t heard about your sport, and we didn’t expect you to win gold – but now that you’ve won, can we ask you about your experience?”

That reality check may have dampened our mood a little that night, but we went on to win two more golds the next day – essentially sweeping the competition.

Truth is, we were used to quizzical looks and fielding questions like these. Most people have no idea what our sport is. I like to give this analogy: Imagine playing a team sport like soccer or field hockey, but you can’t talk to your teammates… or breathe. The level of team camaraderie and strategy required is on a whole new dimension.

I first dived into the sport in 2006 – I was just finishing my national service and swimming competitively for the Navy. I was also a part-time scuba dive master. On a weekend dive trip, a fellow diver introduced me to the sport saying I “looked comfortable underwater”.

There are only about 200 underwater hockey athletes in Singapore. Driven purely by passion, we fund our own training, actively recruit new athletes, and occasionally jostle for training space in public pools with other aquatic sports.

One thing I’ve never had to “fight for” though, is support from DBS. In the lead up to the 2019 SEA games, for instance, I was even given up to 30 days of paid leave to train for it as part of company policy – something that I was pleasantly surprised by.

I am now 12 years into my role in Strategic Advisory, providing advice on mergers and acquisitions. The nature of the job means that my time isn’t always my own – if a client decides to sell or buy a company, for example, our team just has to pull out all the stops, sometimes working around the clock, to bring the deal across the finish line.

The flip side though, is that I have the support from my bosses and peers to pursue this sport – they’re mindful of my training schedule, and understand if I’m slower to respond during those times.

Even though we didn’t compete in the SEA games earlier this year (underwater hockey wasn’t included in the competition), we’ve set our eyes on the Asian Championships next year – and I definitely can’t wait to fly the Singapore flag high once again.

Dale Liu Dongliang, Institutional Banking Group

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