Sng's second leap of faith

Singapore's top high jumper Michelle Sng clearing 1.81m to clinch the SEA Games bronze at the National Stadium in June last year. It was her first Games medal and spurred her to have another go in Malaysia next year.
Singapore's top high jumper Michelle Sng clearing 1.81m to clinch the SEA Games bronze at the National Stadium in June last year. It was her first Games medal and spurred her to have another go in Malaysia next year.ST FILE PHOTO

SEA Games bronze changes retirement plans; she'll train for 6 months in Sydney

Standing on the podium at the National Stadium brimming with tears of joy, high jumper Michelle Sng knew right away that she was not done with the sport just yet.

The 29-year-old had come out of retirement for what was to be her only SEA Games outing in June last year, but her eventual bronze-medal result changed her plans.

Just over a year later, and she is preparing to leave her tuition teaching job, take a leave of absence from her Masters programme in education at Ngee Ann-Adelaide Education Centre, to train full time for about six months in Sydney with a new coach.

She told The Straits Times: "Standing on the podium, I realised that I wasn't just there to fulfil my dream (of winning a SEA Games medal), but that I could start anew and take it even further."

Sng plans to leave for Sydney in early November to train with Australian coach Alex Stewart, who mentors Olympic finalist Brandon Starc of Australia and two-time SEA Games gold winner Nauraj Singh Randhawa of Malaysia.

AN EMOTIONAL RETURN

I haven't been back there since that day in 2011. It's very symbolic for me.

MICHELLE SNG, who aims to compete in next August's SEA Games at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium - the scene of her decision to retire from the sport during a training camp, owing to continued injury.

The goal of the trip is to improve on her 1.81m bronze-winning height at the SEA Games.

Her personal best is 1.84m, set in March last year. Had she met that height at the biennial Games, she would have taken the silver behind Thailand's Wanida Boonwan (1.85m). Instead, the runner-up was Pham Thi Diem of Vietnam on 1.83m.

Said Sng: "To be in an environment where I'm training full time with people who are competing at that level should really help.

"I train eight times a week here but I juggle that with work and school so when I'm there, I'll be able to focus fully on training which will be good for me."

More importantly, she hopes this stint will set up a symbolic return to Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil National Stadium, where next year's SEA Games will be held.

It was at that stadium in 2011, during a training camp, that she made the decision to hang her spikes up and retire from the sport because the pain from an injury - a shin stress fracture in her take-off leg - became unbearable and the sport that once brought her joy made her miserable.

She said: "I haven't been back there since that day in 2011. It's very symbolic for me. (My time there) ended off on an awful note... It was quite painful because being a high jumper and an athlete was such a big part of my identity.

"Training there was good but in terms of having to give up the sport; that was very painful.

"It will be a personal triumph to go back there and compete."

Aside from getting some financial help from sponsor adidas, she will also receive help from Singapore Athletics because of her concrete plans and medal prospects.

Said the sports association's general manager Jamie Cheong: "We will be supporting her in terms of airfare, accommodation and coaching fees.

"Michelle has dedicated at least a decade to the sport and is seen as a role model and a medal contender with a lot of potential."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Sng's second leap of faith'. Print Edition | Subscribe