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Lloyd Oscar Valberg (b.14 April 1922, Singapore – d. 26 March 1997, Perth, Australia) was Singapore’s first Olympian. He was Singapore’s sole competitor at the 1948 London Olympics, where he finished equal 14th in the high jump. An all-round sportsman, he was also an accomplished hurdler and triple jumper. Outside of sport, Valberg was a decorated fire fighter with a career that spanned more than 30 years.
Valberg completed his education at St Anthony’s Boys School, Eton High and the Mercantile College. He left school in 1935 and took up an apprenticeship at United Engineers. In 1938, he became interested in athletics, especially the high jump, with the encouragement of his brother C. O. Valberg. That year, Valberg set a new high jump record of 5ft 9in at the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC).
Lacking formal training, Valberg mastered the high jump by copying the styles of western athletes. Inspired by a picture of American jumper Lester Steers in action, Valberg dropped the standard “western roll” method in favour of Steers’ “belly roll”, which improved his performance. As athletics facilities were limited at the time, Valberg improvised by designing a portable high jump upright for training. In addition, Valberg also excelled at the hurdles and triple jump.
Valberg first made his mark in 1939, at the age of 17, when he cleared a record-breaking 6ft 2in. After World War II, he signalled his return to form with a jump of 6ft 2in and a hurdles record of 15.5 seconds at the 1947 Singapore Amateur Athletics Association (SAAA) meet. The following month, he broke his own record with a jump of 6ft 3in at the Singapore Representative Team Championships.
London Olympic Games
The highlight of Valberg’s athletics career took place in July 1948, when he was Singapore’s sole competitor at the London Olympic Games. Although Singapore footballer Chua Boon Lay was at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, where he represented China, Valberg is considered Singapore’s first Games representative under the Singapore Olympic and Sports Council established in 1947.
Arriving in London before the Games opening, Valberg initially found it difficult to adapt to the unfamiliar Games environment. He also had trouble acclimatising to the weather, which adversely affected his athletic performance. However, with his affable personality, Valberg soon became a popular figure in athletic circles. As he lacked a coach, the Ceylon athletics team manager Brant Little invited him to train with the Ceylonese team.
At the Games parade, Valberg and Jocelyn de Souza, the Singapore team manager, flag-bearer and the only other Singapore representative, made up the smallest contingent to march around the arena. Valberg participated in the high jump event and, according to the official Games report, finished equal 14th with a final jump of 5ft 11in. De Souza later reported that Valberg’s performance was affected by a leg injury he had sustained prior to the event. Valberg also admitted to being nervous about performing before such a large crowd.
After the Games, Valberg continued to be active in competitive athletics in Singapore. He also established and captained the Achilles athletics club.
At the 1949 SAAA meet, Valberg swept the high jump and triple jump events, and narrowly beat his rival Ng Liang Chiang at the hurdles race. At the Malayan Amateur Athletics Association meet later that year, Valberg broke the Malayan hurdles record with a time of 15.5 seconds.
In 1950, Valberg represented Singapore at the Empire Games in New Zealand. In the same year, he broke the Malayan triple jump record with a jump of 43ft 9½in, then re-wrote it the following year with a new record of 45ft 3in. Following these successes, Valberg decided to focus on the hurdles and triple jump events.
In 1951, Valberg captained the Singapore athletics team at the inaugural Asian Games in India, where he clinched a bronze medal with a time of 15.7 seconds in the hurdles and was ranked 5th in the high jump. At the 1954 Asian Games in the Philippines, he was ranked 6th in the high jump with a jump of 6ft 2in and 5th in the hurdles with a time of 15.7 seconds.
After a break from competitive athletics, Valberg attempted a comeback at the 1956 SAAA meet, where he defied expectations to win the high jump with a jump of 6ft. A subsequent attempt in 1957 was less successful due to injury. Overall, he never managed break Siow Leong Joo’s 1939 high jump record of 6ft 3½in.
Valberg retired from competitive athletics by the late 1950s and became involved in other sports. An all-round sportsman, he was a popular member of the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC), where he coached young athletes and played football and hockey. He was vice-president of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association from 1966 to 1968. He played on the SRC’s softball team, coached the Singapore softball team for the First Asian Softball Championships, and was president of the Singapore Softball Association from 1968 to 1969. He played badminton well enough to be a reserve on the national badminton team, and counted among his friends the badminton greats Wong Peng Soon, Ong Poh Lim and Ismail Marjan.
Career as fire fighter
Alongside his career in athletics, Valberg was also a decorated fire fighter. He joined the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1937 and, after World War II, became 3rd Officer with the Singapore Harbour Board. In 1952, he became chief fire officer of the Port Fire Service, a position that he held for the next 20 years.
While in London for the 1948 Olympic Games, Valberg visited the Surrey County Fire Brigade and attended a four-week training course with the London Fire Brigade.
In 1951, Valberg earned the King’s Police & Fire Service Medal for going alongside the oil tanker Lingula when it caught fire at Pulau Samboe. In 1972, he was awarded the Public Administration (silver) medal. Shortly after, he retired from the fire service.
Migration and death
After retirement, Lloyd Valberg migrated to Australia. On the day of his departure from Singapore, the Port Fire Service turned out in full force to send him off. He went on to live in Coolballup, a small town outside Perth, Western Australia. He passed away on 26 March 1997 at the age of 75.
Wife: Florence Nancy Valberg
Daughters: Victoria, Verdayne, Veronica, Jacquline, Venetia
Son: Floyd Tuscon Valberg
Valberg was a member of an extended Eurasian family of the same name that was known for its sporting abilities. His son Floyd was a well-known Singapore softball player in the 1970s and 1980s. His cousin Maurice Valberg was noted for his all-round sporting ability in cricket, hockey, soccer and billiards. His uncle E. H. Valberg was a keen billiards player who was active at the SRC.
Joanna HS Tan
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King rewards “courage in danger, devotion to duty”. (1951, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
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Lloyd Valberg makes a decision. (1951, August 23). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Lone marcher circles arena. (1948, August 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
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New athletic club formed. (1951, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Olympic flag for Delhi. (1951, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
One record broken in AAA meet. (1949, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Robert, G. (1997, March 29). Farewell Valberg, a man of many talents. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Sprint double for Kesavan. (1956, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Taylor, M. (1948, July 16). Valberg popular at Olympic camp. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Untitled. (1948, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Valberg beats own record. (1947, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Valberg's great bid succeeds. (1951, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Valberg held stage for 2 hours. (195, July 30). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Valberg to undergo course. (1948, August 17). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Valberg wins three AAA titles. (1949, July 31). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved on July 28, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.
Valberg, Lloyd Oscar, 1922–1997
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