REPORTING FROM INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA
The dream was supposed to go on.
Nine months after rower Saiyidah Aisyah won Singapore’s first-ever Southeast Asian Games individual gold, she found herself poised to make history again on the even bigger stage that is the Asian Games.
But it was not to be. The 26-year-old finished dead last in the lightweight single sculls finals on Thursday morning at Chungju Lake in Incheon, South Korea, in a time of 8:17.84 minutes.
It was a leap from her qualifying time of 8:24.86 minutes, which had seeded her third out of four women and provided the initial hope that she would earn Singapore’s first-ever Asian Games medal in rowing.
But Aisyah ended up outclassed in a field of Olympians and Asian champions, crossing the line seven seconds behind bronze medalist Soulmaz Abbasiazad of Iran.
South Korean Ji Yoojin won the 2,000m-long race in a time of 8:01.00.
“I’m sorry you came all the way here to see me lose,” said Aisyah, as she broke down in tears before media just after the event.
While she started strong off the blocks, she found herself trailing the pack at the halfway mark and eventually crawled to a finish in the final stretch.
“It was a struggle,” she said. “They were pulling away and I put in more effort, but it wasn’t enough.”
Aisyah, who was making her Asiad debut, reflected: “I guess I didn’t want it bad enough. I came to the Asian Games wanting to bring home a medal, but I wasn’t as hungry as I was during the SEA Games.”
She admitted that while her third-placing in the heats had given her the confidence to win a medal, it also made her “a bit complacent.”
Even then, there was a sliver of self-doubt which refused to go away. “It’s like this little voice saying ‘it’s your first time, it’s OK if you don’t make it’,” she said.
“You come here and you see all these Asian Games athletes who’re at their second or third Games,” Aisyah continued. “To put myself amongst them, I feel I was brave enough to be here.”
The sculler may just be gutsier than she thinks. This was her first competition since the SEA Games, due to a rib fracture suffered in March this year.
She tried not to let the niggling injury affect her during the race, but Aisyah confessed that the recovery process, which kept her out of competition throughout the year, proved to be her “downfall”.
Coach Alan Bennett agreed. “A lack of preparation due to injury, a lack of racing and exposure this season,” he said, when asked to explain what he called a “below-par” performance from his athlete.
Aisyah, however, was a lot more critical on herself. “There needs to be a lowest point in someone’s life,” she said, quietly. “But I’ve learnt that I don’t want to ever lose again. I just don’t want it to happen again.”
The only way is up, Aisyah added, so it’s on to her longtime goal of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. There is one last thing to do, though, before she returns to the daily grind.
“I’m going to ask for forgiveness from my parents, for not bringing home a medal to them,” she said through tears.