After adjustment of 'low' score, no one else can beat Debbie Soh in solo free event
She strutted confidently onto the pool deck at the National Aquatic Centre yesterday afternoon and went through her solo free routine to the strains of Belgian singer Stromae's Formidable with aplomb.
But when her score flashed on the scoreboard, her heart sank. It was below what she expected.
Organisers hastily issued a correction but as the next 40 minutes passed, synchronised swimmer Debbie Soh was anything but confident.
Second in the line-up of eight contestants, the 19-year-old was forced to watch her fellow competitors go through their routines, watching as their scores flashed one by one on the scoreboard and hoping that no one would surpass hers.
The emotional roller-coaster finally came to a halt and with it came Singapore's first gold at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. It is also the nation's maiden solo synchronised swimming title at the Games.
Her performance earned her a total score of 75.0000 (22.3000 for execution, 30.0000 for artistic impression and 22.70000 for difficulty), ahead of Malaysia's Lee Yhing Huey (74.7000) and compatriot Miya Yong (73.0333).
Soh, a Singapore Sports School student, said: "Since most of my rivals were behind me, I was quite nervous to know my score.
"They announced my score wrongly the first time, so I was a bit shocked.
PM Lee wishes athletes well
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday posted on his Facebook page a message of encouragement to all Team Singapore athletes who are participating at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, which officially kicks off tomorrow.
He wrote in the post: "The road to prepare for any major sporting event is never easy. Our Team Singapore athletes have been training hard, pushing through fatigue and personal challenges to prepare for the SEA Games, which officially opens in KL this Saturday 19 August.
"Wishing all of our athletes every success! Do your best and make us proud! Go Team Singapore!"
Singapore has sent 568 athletes to compete in 35 of the 38 sports at the biennial Games - the largest-ever for an overseas Games.
"After they corrected the score, I was a bit more hopeful but I couldn't get my hopes too high because I was standing by the side watching my competitors perform to see how I would fare against them."
She had outperformed Lee at last month's Fina world meet in Budapest in the same event, but added: "At the World Championships, I scored slightly higher (75.6000) so I was hoping that the score would be high enough during these Games to get us the gold medal."
It was. As the final scores and rankings were displayed, Soh's team-mates, who were watching from the spectator stands, yelled in jubilation as she hugged Miya and coach Maryna Tsimashenka.
Said the coach: "I just hugged … we hugged, we couldn't believe it.
"We've prepared for the SEA Games for two years … but we know Malaysia has good soloists and very artistic soloists, this is no secret."
Lee admitted that she was disappointed about missing out on gold, but was pleased to have achieved her best score to date.
The Malaysian added: "(Soh) improved so much, I guess she improved slightly more than I did, so that's the difference."
Soh had the chance to make it two out of two in the solo technical event, where she was again the second swimmer out of nine.
Her score of 73.8253 had been the best among seven swimmers, until Malaysia's Gan Hua Wei, the eighth swimmer, scored 73.8386.
The Singaporean lost the gold by a hair's breadth.
Although Soh felt that the scores were "uncomfortably close" as she had outperformed Gan by a wider margin in Hungary, she said: "I was slightly disappointed because we did aim for five gold medals but this is just one out of the five events, we'll continue working hard for the rest.
"I did my best. Losing by 0.01, it's a bit saddening but I know I did my best so I didn't have any regrets.
"I will take this experience back and try to analyse what my weaknesses and advantages are, and try to improve on them."
Tsimashenka, while pleased with her charges' performances in both events, felt Soh did not receive a fair score in the solo technical.
However, she vowed that she and her charges would "try again tomorrow and show how strong Singapore is".
Miya, also an SSP student, revealed she had entered the competition "without expectations".
The 17-year-old, who also earned her second bronze of the day in the solo technical, thanked her coaches and the Singapore Swimming Association, adding: "I came without any expectations for my solo but I'm just really happy that I managed to do my best and bring medals to my country."
The synchronised swimming competition continues today, with the Singapore pair set to feature in the duet technical routine.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Gold after an anxious wait'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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