Rowing: Realistic target drives Saiyidah's Olympic quest

Saiyidah Aisyah is the first Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympic Games. Racing, she said, is "90 per cent mental, and it's not something you can just visualise and perform the next day, but something that you have to build up through months
Saiyidah Aisyah is the first Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympic Games. Racing, she said, is "90 per cent mental, and it's not something you can just visualise and perform the next day, but something that you have to build up through months of training".ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

When Saiyidah Aisyah competes at her first Olympics in August, she must not only be in peak form physically, but mentally as well.

From the rower's callused palms to her toughened psyche, the 28-year-old Singaporean is determined to push the limits in her bid to qualify for the 2,000m single sculls D final and a top-24 finish among 32 participants in her event in Rio de Janeiro.

Hours spent at the gym and pounding the roads have made her stronger and fitter. Even during her brief stay in Singapore - she left last night for a three-week training stint in London - she was up before sunrise, working on her strokes at Pandan Reservoir.

Speaking after yesterday's training, she said: "I will be doing a lot of water training (in London), thrice a day, and a lot of running as well. I will be racing every weekend as well, with many head-on-head races as they teach me how to push from the start to the end and improve my strategy."

Working with Hansen Bay, a mental skills coach, since January has made also helped.

She said: "He teaches me how to let go of expectations and to focus on your performance there and then. When it comes to racing, it's 90 per cent mental, and it's not something where you can just visualise and perform the next day, but something that you have to build up through months of training."

Her targets for Brazil may seem unambitious to some but, for the 2013 SEA Games champion, they are realistic and a ranking of between 19-24 was where Asian rowers had usually finished in previous Olympics.

She added: "Definitely a lot of pressure has been lifted by my qualification, so I will be there to do my best and see how far I can go."

It has been some journey. She moved to Sydney last August to train full-time, spending most of her life savings in the process.

But in April when she became the Republic's first rower to qualify for the Olympics after winning the B final at the Fisa Asia and Oceania Continental Olympic Qualification Regatta in Chungju, South Korea.

The weight of that historic achievement has taken a while to percolate through.

She said: "It was only after I came back to Singapore on Monday that it started to sink in again that I (have) made it to the Olympics."

All that remains is to give it her best shot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Realistic target drives Olympic quest'. Print Edition | Subscribe