My best moment

A shooter's strength in defeat

Achievements, whether in terms of victories or records, are arguably the most celebrated things at the Olympics. That is what most people remember.

But the bulk of athletes are relegated to also-rans and in Rio, that list stretched to nearly 11,000.

At these Games, I have been privileged to witness many great triumphs, some of which will go down as the most iconic moments in Olympic history.

But what ultimately stood out for me was not a victory but a moment one of our own stood fragile in defeat.

Jasmine Ser, after falling short of a place in the final - and her own high standards - in the 50m rifle three positions, was understandably not immediately ready to speak to the press.

Jasmine Ser came away from the 50m rifle three positions event without a medal, but will channel her experiences into challenging at the Olympics again. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

She was tearing in solitude after finishing 34th out of 37, packing up her rifle and collecting her emotions before meeting the media.

When the shooter returned, she spoke stoically as she braved difficult questions that pricked at her raw emotions. She also apologised.

In defeat, Ser tended not to her disappointment, but to the expectations she felt others had of her.

That one of the first things she would say after a crushing result like that was "I'm sorry", was heartbreaking to hear.

No one at the range that day - not the media, not the dignitaries who supported her from the stands nor the coach and officials who have worked with her on the road to Rio, could have been more broken than her.

No apology is needed from her.

Ultimately, even as the laymen pass judgment and others analyse, Ser's harshest critic is herself. The one who demands the most from an athlete is often the athlete.

Over the years Ser has devoted herself to training full-time, as she travelled to the far-flung National Shooting Centre at Old Choa Chu Kang Road, slipped on that cumbersome jacket to shoot in the humid and stifling conditions outdoors, no one sweated it out with her.

When she trains in the incredibly uncomfortable prone position, her arms going purple and numb from the tight strap she puts on to shoot, only she feels the pain.

As journalists, we are privileged to have front-row seats to triumphs, but also to defeats when athletes are at their most vulnerable.

Not all have the strength to get back on their feet - and certainly not in the immediate aftermath - so it was heartbreaking yet also heartwarming to see Ser's mettle in that moment as she spoke about making another run for the 2020 Olympics.

About a week later, I was on the Copacabana beach watching the women's beach volleyball bronze-medal match between the United States and Brazil.

American Kerri Walsh Jennings was playing for third place, after suffering the first defeat of her Olympic career the night before. She said that loss had left her inconsolable.

But the 38-year-old - she took bronze that night with partner April Ross - also soon realised that moping and wallowing was "absurd", because right before her was "an opportunity to grow as a person".

This beach volleyball legend was simply putting in words what I had already seen Ser do - picking herself and her shattered dreams up in front of our eyes.

And that was more beautiful than any victory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'A shooter's strength in defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe