Editor’s Note: In 2008, then 18-year-old Calvin Kang was selected as a wildcard entry to represent Singapore in the men’s 100 meter sprint at the Beijing Olympic Games. The former Olympian shares with YMI about his journey to the biggest race of his life and what he’s learned from it.
Written By Calvin Kang, Singapore
I started running at a young age—I used to break things at home because I was always knocking into them. Naturally, my mum wasn’t pleased so she got me to play downstairs instead. That’s when I started playing catching with the other kids. I always enjoyed being the catcher, as I was often able to catch all the kids.
When I was in Primary Three, my physical education teacher noticed my running ability and encouraged me to join the school’s track and field team. I picked up the techniques of sprinting quickly; it felt very natural to me. From then, my love for sprinting grew.
In Secondary school, I started to train 10 times a week in the Singapore Sports School. My life revolved around competitions and training camps, some of which were overseas. Physical injuries also became a part and parcel of my life; these included injuries to my hamstring, lower back and hip flexor. I was progressing well and at 15, I qualified for my first IAAF World Youth Championships. It was the biggest competition for my age category.
Unfortunately, I suffered two back-to-back injuries and ended up being out of action for the entire year. That was highly demoralizing and I even considered quitting entirely. But I could sense that God was not done with me. I decided to trust Him and focus on my recovery. Subsequently, God not only granted me fully recovery, but also enabled me to achieve my goal of breaking the 11-second barrier (for the 100 meters sprint) in the year after. I managed to clock a time of 10.88 seconds from my previous best of 11.09 seconds.
On hindsight, I realize that God had used that episode to teach me a lesson on obedience and patience, and it strengthened my faith in him. When I tried to take on more than I could handle—for example, if I planned to take part in six competitions in a year but along the way, got tempted to take on one more—I would end up sustaining injuries because of my “greed”.
When I was 18 years old, I was the fastest man on the track in my country. In the lead up to the Olympics, I remember that there were a number of news articles about who my country would send as a wildcard entry. (Wildcard entries are given to countries which don’t have athletes that qualify on merit for the Olympics.) It was between me and veteran sprinter, Poh Seng Song. Poh represented Singapore at the 2004 Athens Olympics and was still performing well that year.
Although I was the best performing athlete then, I was only 18 and many thought it was not a good idea to send me as I had no experience of competing on the global stage. So when I heard the news that I was selected to participate in the 100 meters race, I was immensely excited and grateful. I knew it was only by God’s grace that the Olympic committee chose me. It motivated me to aim for excellence on the track, and to keep trusting in God’s purposes for me.
The journey to the Olympics was a challenging one. I suffered from many physical injuries. But throughout the journey, I never felt alone as I always had the support of my family, friends and church mates who prayed alongside me. Looking back, I am thankful that my formative years were spent in God’s community, which played a key role in reminding me of His presence and faithfulness. I knew that God had things planned for me and it taught me to wait on the Lord.
The Greatest Race of My Life
Race day finally came.
It was 9.33am in the morning and I was in heat 7, lane 3. When I saw the start list, I was amazed by the immense strength of the other sprinters. On my right was Portuguese sprinter, Francis Obikewlu, who was the 2004 silver medallist in the 100m with a personal best of 9.86 seconds. I was also alongside the fastest guys in Nigeria and Canada. The eventual bronze medallist of that Olympics, Walter Dix from USA, was also in my heat.
I can still remember the thunderous cheers from the crowd as we walked from the call room onto the track. It was so loud I could hardly hear my steps on the track. I was the only Asian in my heat—the smallest and the youngest. But I didn’t feel intimidated, knowing full well that it was God’s plan for me to be a part of that race. I felt immensely proud to be wearing my country’s flag on my chest, and representing my family, self and God.
“On your marks, set . . . bang!” I took off. In the first 30 meters, I was among the top few runners. But from the 40-meter mark, the rest of the runners simply flew past me and my gap between them kept widening. Even while racing, I was in awe of their speed and the thought crossed my mind: I am actually running the 100 meters in the Olympics, this is so cool!
I gave my best and finished fifth (out of eight runners). Although I did not manage to clock my best timing or advance to the semis, it was the biggest race of my life—and an experience I would never forget.
My Olympic journey reminds me about the story of Abraham and God. Despite not knowing where God was leading him to, Abraham trusted in God and obeyed God’s calling to leave his family and go into a foreign land (Gen 12:1). Similarly, at many points during my journey, I found myself having to trust in God’s direction and leading.
Being a part of the 2008 Olympics has given me a new perspective on my faith as a Christian. Just like how I had not qualified on my own merit, but was given this privilege to take part in the Olympics, the salvation I have is not by my own works, but a gift from God. And that motivates me to want to give my best to God, not just in my races, but in my whole life.
About Calvin Kang
Date of Birth: 16 April 1990
Personal Best(s): 10.47s (Men 100m, 2015 Singapore Open)
Games he’s competed in:
2008 Beijing Olympics,
2010 Commonwealth Games
2010 Asian Games
2013 SEA Games
2011 Jakarta-Palembang Southeast Asian Games
2012 ASEAN University Games
2014 Asian Games
Photo taken from here