Patricia Chan Li-Yin (b. 12 April 1954, Singapore–),1 popularly known as Pat Chan, was the golden girl of regional swimming between 1965 and 1973. The most accomplished in a family of talented swimmers, Chan dominated the 100-metre freestyle event. She won 39 gold medals over five Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games (now known as the Southeast Asian Games), often setting new records at each sports meet.2
Education and training
Chan completed her early education at Raffles Girls’ School, Methodist Girls’ School and Anglo-Chinese School.3 She began swimming at age seven, when a family friend took her to the Chinese Swimming Club and literally threw her into the deep end.4
Chan’s father, Chan Ah Kow, coached her in the sport, as he had done with her older siblings. A talented athlete in his youth, the elder Chan was named Coach of the Year in 1969, 1970 and 1971 by the Singapore National Olympic Council.5 He used developed Chan’s swimming skills and improved her cardiovascular strength, by planning twice-a-day training sessions, including a regime of isometric, resistance exercises and calisthenics, and creating homemade training aids such as solid wood hand paddles and kickboards. Swimmers from the region often stayed at the family home, known as Chansville, and trained with the family, inculcating a sense of sportsmanship in the young Chan.6
Following a rigorous regimen, Chan began swimming practice at 5 am every day at the Chinese Swimming Club, which was near the family residence. At the prompting of their father, they would often climb over the locked gates of the club for their predawn training. She left for school at 6.45 am, and after she returned home in the afternoon, swimming practice resumed at 5 pm. This was followed by dinner at 7.30 pm, after which she focused on her school work.7
After establishing local swimming records early in her career, Chan, then age 11, won eight gold medals at the 3rd SEAP Games held in Kuala Lumpur in December 1965.8 This feat, coming only a few months after Singapore gained independence, galvanised new Singaporeans who, for the first time, heard the national anthem sung in the sports arena. At the 1967 SEAP Games, Chan increased her haul to 10 gold medals. In 1969, despite problems with her ear drums as a result of a turbulent plane ride, Chan reprised her feat of clinching 10 gold medals.9 In the five years (1969–73) that she competed in the 100-metre freestyle event at the games, she won and set new meet records.10 At the 1973 SEAP Games, she rewrote her record and clocked 1 hr 3 min 47 s in the event, bagging the gold medal, one of the six she won at the games.11
Chan won several silver and bronze medals at the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games. A two-time Olympian, she clocked 1:14.24 in the 100-metre backstroke heats and 2:41.27 in the 200-metre backstroke heats at the 1972 Munich Olympics.12
Retirement from swimming
Having been in the limelight since an early age, Chan decided to retire from swimming in 1973 at the age of 19, announcing this on the final day of the swimming competition at the SEAP Games.13 She was immediately invited by the Singapore Island Country Club to become its resident swimming coach, thus becoming Singapore’s first female professional coach.14 Thereafter, she moved into journalism, rising quickly through the ranks from a rookie journalist at pop magazine Fanfare to becoming the editor of a sister magazine and later, the creative director for a number of magazines.15
Having sang in school choirs, Chan participated in the 1976 local talent show, Talentime, as part of The Vintage, a singing quartet that included jazz singer Jacintha Abisheganaden. Chan directed and sang in her first musical, Stardust, in October 1978. Staged at the DBS Auditorium, the musical featured songs from the 1950s and ’60s and was performed by amateurs, including her singing mates from The Vintage and her younger brother Mark. She continued to perform intermittently as a singer after her retirement from swimming.16
Today, Chan is a communications specialist and runs her own new media and sports consultancy company, Vi’s/us.17
Chan was named Sportswoman of the Year, Singapore’s highest accolade for sporting achievement, over five consecutive years from 1967 to 1971.18 Over the course of her swimming career, Chan attained a total of 39 gold medals, a record that stood unsurpassed until 2005, when national swimmer Joscelin Yeo broke it with her career total of 40 gold medals.19 Chan was ranked fourth on The Straits Times’ list of Singapore’s 50 greatest athletes, announced in 1999.20 In 2002, she was inducted into the Singapore Sports Council Hall of Fame.21
Father: Chan Ah Kow
Brothers: Bernard, Alex, Roy and Mark
Sisters: Mei Ling and Vicky
1. Leo Suryadinata, ed., Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 1 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012), 75. (Call no. RSING 959.004951 SOU)
2. Nick Aplin, Singapore Olympians: The Complete Who’s Who, 1936–2004 (Singapore: SNP Reference, 2005), 158–59. (Call no. RSING 796.09225957 APL)
3. Aplin, Singapore Olympians, 159.
4. Tey Choon Wee et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track: Stories of Singapore Sports Veterans (Singapore: Candid Creation Publishing, 2005), 143. (Call no. RSING 796.09225957 ACH)
5. “Olympics: SASA to Decide Today,” Straits Times, 6 March 1972, 29; Ernest Frida, “Teams Get Chance for ‘Best of Year’ Award,” Straits Times, 30 December 1972; Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 147.
6. Aplin, Singapore Olympians, 160–61; Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 75; Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 147–48.
7. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 145.
8. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 144; Joe Dorai, “Pat and Her ‘Golden Daze’... ,” Straits Times, 20 December 1965, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 144, 146, 153.
10. Aplin, Singapore Olympians, 158–59.
11. Aplin, Singapore Olympians, 159; Nancy Koh, “Pat Says Farewell to Seap with 6 Golds,” New Nation, 6 September 1973, 11 (From NewspaperSG); Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 153.
12. Aplin, Singapore Olympians, 158–59.
13. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 149; Koh, “Pat Says Farewell to Seap with 6 Golds.”
14. Albert Johnson, “Swim Star Pat to Coach at SICC,” Straits Times, 11 January 1974, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 151; Alvin Foo, “Where Are They Now?”Straits Times, 6 March 2005, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Bailyne Sung, Stardust is Swinging Step to the Musical Past,” Straits Times, 22 October 1978, 13; Mei-Lin Chew, “The Other Side of Pat...,” Straits Times, 18 November 1976, 10; “Stardust in Charity Show,”New Nation, 13 November 1980, 19; Judith Holmberg, “The Top of the Pops…,” New Nation, 21 October 1976, 10–11. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 151; Foo, “Where Are They Now?”; Methodist Girls’ School, “A Golden View of Sports: Straight Talking with Pat Chan,” Parent to Parent (October 2012), 9. (From NLB's Web Archives Singapore)
18. Tey et al., Achievements off the Beaten Track, 153.
19. “Golden Girl Jos Stars in Stellar SEA Games Haul,” New Paper, 9 August 2015, 48–49; “Golden Girl Pat Chan,” Straits Times, 19 April 2015, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Yap Koon Hong, “A Salute to Our Athletes,” Straits Times, 20 December 1999, 42. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Abdullah Tarmugi, Speech at SSC Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Fullerton Hotel, 11 January 2002, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2002011109).
22. Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 74.
The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.