Sporting Life

In a new year, local athletes chase new goals

If there is a favourite god of athletes then it might be Janus, after whom January is ostensibly named. He is the Roman god of gates and doorways and this month more than any other symbolises an entry into another world. A new year begins, new chances come, new goals are set. Last year swimmer Amanda Lim was 0.03 of a second away from a personal best in the 50m freestyle. This year, she says, she will invest hours to chase that fraction.

The holidays are over. Cold water in the pool beckons. The sun awaits at the track. Joseph Schooling practised on Christmas Day and New Year's Day and he has to if he wants to fulfil his goal of three butterfly golds at the Asian Games. Marathoner Soh Rui Yong's New Year gift from his coach was a 16km run. Welcome to 2018, buddy.

The year has barely begun and shooter Jasmine Ser is "stressed", for every recent weekend has been a trial for April's Commonwealth Games. At 16 Ser was a raw talent, at 27 she's a multi-Games medallist who can feel the ambition of her younger peers and knows she must be sharper in finals. "Fine-tune my technique," she says of 2018. "Put in the work," she adds. Ser doesn't know what the year will give her but as always she will give it her sweat.

January is when dreams are typed and ambition scribbled down and as that foot-racing fellow Mok Ying Ren texts: "A generation without a vision will perish. Likewise a man without goals."

On scraps of paper and in the mind, athletes make lists about timings to be chased and placings to be pursued. Goals can be just a small string of words - "To qualify for the Asian Games" writes diver Myra Lee - but they are so powerful that they can push her through any pain.

In the morning I had texted athletes about goals and their answers are revealing, unmasking their ambition, reflecting their drive and hinting at fears. They are strong, fit people who sometimes seek the simplest thing: good health. Two athletes with recently rebellious bodies, hurdler Dipna Lim-Prasad and bowler Shayna Ng, just want a chance to express their skill without interruption. In January, no more injuries is both their goal and prayer.

Diver Timothy Lee says he'd be "really pleased" if he and his twin, Mark, finish in the top five on their debut as a synchro pair at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, while Mark notes that "a diving specific goal is to get closer to Olympic qualifying score". Tokyo 2020 is some time away but the brothers know, as do all athletes, that time flies and chances die. It is why you have to be ready in January.

Making the grade for this year's Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang is a priority for local platform diver Myra Lee. That goal of hers will drive her through this year's toils.
Making the grade for this year’s Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang is a priority for local platform diver Myra Lee. That goal of hers will drive her through this year’s toils. ST FILE PHOTO

In January, people don't just want to be faster, they want to be focused. High jumper Michelle Sng wants "to remain equanimous in all situations" and swimmer Quah Ting Wen wants "to be present, mentally and emotionally, and to make every moment count - to stop thinking about the future all the time".

Ashley Liew, the marathoner, meanwhile sends me an elegant clarification: "I differentiate between targets (what you want to achieve) and goals (who you want to be)". His targets are to "run a sub-2hr 30min marathon personal best and to qualify for a major Games event" and his goal is "to remember that life is not all about running and thus I should better appreciate the people around me like my father and girlfriend".

January is when dreams are typed and ambition scribbled down and as that foot-racing fellow Mok Ying Ren texts: "A generation without a vision will perish. Likewise a man without goals."

January is invigorating because it is a time of clean slates and unwritten scripts and renewed vows. By April form may hiccup at the Commonwealth Games, by August confidence may leak at the Asian Games, but for now hope hasn't been dented.

The cycle of sport is unchanging and yet athletes can never stay the same. They must be better. Or at least different. Which is why rower Saiyidah Aisyah has decided to stop keeping goals this year because she found they weren't working for her. Better just to keep working. So on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day she went running in the UK.

In single-digit temperature.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2018, with the headline 'In a new year, local athletes chase new goals'. Print Edition | Subscribe