Rowing: Clocking faster times is Saiyidah's key motivating factor

Singapore rower Saiyidah Aisyah at yesterday's Herbalife event. She wants another trip to the Olympics before retiring and her immediate goals are this year's World Championships and next year's Asian Games.
Singapore rower Saiyidah Aisyah at yesterday's Herbalife event. She wants another trip to the Olympics before retiring and her immediate goals are this year's World Championships and next year's Asian Games. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

She used to be driven mainly by her desire to prove the doubters wrong.

But having done that by making it to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year, rower Saiyidah Aisyah has something else in her sights - achieving better results.

Having committed full-time in 2015, she had to overcome several hurdles before becoming the first Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympics. She was rejected initially for the spexScholarship twice, in 2014 and 2015, and, uniquely, relied mostly on a combination of her own savings and crowdfunding to pay for her year-long training programme in Sydney.

"Previously, it was about proving people wrong, (especially) when people would tell me that I wasn't good enough for the Olympics," Saiyidah, 28, told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday at a Herbalife event. The nutrition company launched a sports drink, CR7 Drive, which was developed in collaboration with Real Madrid football star Cristiano Ronaldo.

"But after the Olympics, I am a more mature athlete in the sense that I feel like I've been through the worst of it and still emerged from it, so nothing can rattle me.

"But I also realise that I cannot continue to depend on these external motivating factors.

"After my race, I thought to myself, 'Is this the end?' I believe that I still want to go further than what I've achieved at the Olympics. I can actually be better. It's not easy to find that internal motivation but that (the desire to improve) is what motivates me now."

Saiyidah made it to the quarter-finals of the singles sculls event in Rio, and she finished 23rd out of 32 competitors. She aims to qualify for Tokyo 2020 before retiring.

While rowing is not in the SEA Games this year, the 2013 Games champion's next targets are the World Championships in the United States from Sept 24 to Oct 1 and the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

Saiyidah is hoping to redeem herself after a disappointing last place in the women's lightweight single sculls at the 2014 Asiad in Incheon.

A two-month training stint with the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia at the end of last year rekindled her desire and her focus.

Said Saiyidah, who returns to Sydney today: "I needed that and it helped me to reset myself mentally because I felt mentally fatigued...

"The rowers there are a very hard-working bunch and I learnt some valuable ethics from them. In Sydney, I trained with people younger than me, but in Philadelphia, they were around my age and they had to juggle the responsibility of work with training sessions.

"So I feel grateful to be able to train and compete as a full-time athlete."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Clocking faster times is Saiyidah's key motivating factor'. Print Edition | Subscribe