Athletics: Rio confirmation a relief for marathoner Neo Jie Shi

Para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu (second from left) and shuttler Derek Wong (right), the flag-bearers for the Paralympics and Olympic Games respectively, with their chefs de mission Ho Cheng Kwee and Low Teo Ping. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Gr
Para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu (second from left) and shuttler Derek Wong (right), the flag-bearers for the Paralympics and Olympic Games respectively, with their chefs de mission Ho Cheng Kwee and Low Teo Ping. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin were also present at the Marina Bay Floating Platform for the official flag presentation ceremony for Team Singapore athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro next month.PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

For months, well-wishers have been asking Neo Jie Shi about the Olympic Games. For months, her response was she was awaiting confirmation on her participation.

This week, the marathoner finally got the word she had been waiting for all year, when the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) formally pencilled her in for the Aug 5-21 Rio de Janeiro Games.

The 31-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday that the news came as a relief.

"Now I can actually tell people when I'm leaving for Rio," said Neo. "It did get me a little down to not be able to say for sure that I'm going, but I totally understand.

"I knew I couldn't control it, so I just focused on training so that I would still be prepared if and when the results came."

Neo met IAAF qualifying standards by finishing among the top 10 at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, a Gold Label road race, last December. She will be the first Singaporean woman to compete in the marathon since Yvonne Danson at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Having kept up her training and work as an assistant manager in human resources and administration, Neo added: "I didn't want to let the qualification process affect training because in the long run, the training will benefit me. To all athletes, it's about improving."

While most athletes due to compete at the Olympics and Paralympics are either already in Rio or in training camp overseas, Neo was one of a handful present at the Olympic and Paralympic flag presentation ceremony yesterday at the Marina Bay Floating Platform.

Shuttler Derek Wong was handed the flag-bearer duty, alongside para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, who will lead the Paralympic contingent at the Sept 7-18 Games.

While coy when asked about medals, officials were optimistic of Singapore's chances at both Games.

Said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu: "(The athletes) have been training very hard and many have made sacrifices for this day. I'm sure they will put in all they have to bring us a lot of pride and glory.

"We don't have any targets but we're hopeful they will come back with some medals for us."

Chef de mission for the Olympic Games Low Teo Ping added: "It's not a question of a target, but of encouraging the athletes. They've committed to doing their personal bests and if they do, I'm sure we'll be within podium contention."

Singapore is sending 25 athletes across seven sports to the Olympic Games, while the Paralympic contingent consists of a record 11 athletes from five sports.

Para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu will compete in her third straight Games, going in as a double world record holder in the 50m and 100m backstroke S2.

Said the 24-year-old, Singapore's only Paralympic champion: "I was a bit nervous last week, but it's more of excitement now. It's very nice to see the Paralympics grow in Singapore and I think this will be a very exciting one to watch.

"Regardless of the results, I have no regrets because we've trained so hard. The harder you work for something, the more excited you are for it."

May Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Rio confirmation a relief for marathoner Neo'. Print Edition | Subscribe