TOKYO - In a cold, dark corner of the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza indoor arena yesterday morning, it all became too much for Yeo Jia Min to keep inside.
It was just moments after the 22-year-old Singaporean shuttler meekly surrendered to South Korea's World No. 18 Kim Ga-eun, resulting in her exit from the women's badminton singles competition at the Tokyo Olympics.
Yeo had already put up a brave front in a brief interview with the international media at the media mixed zone. But facing familiar faces from home with the local media, her emotions spilled over.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, as she turned her back to gather herself.
The pain of defeat still raw, she was hurting.
Yeo is ranked 12 places lower than Kim but had gone into the match having enjoyed a 3-1 head-to-head record, which includes two wins in their most recent meetings in 2019.
Kim, however, sealed the match 21-13, 21-14 in a swift 30 minutes to progress to the last 16 at the Singaporean's expense.
After taking a minute to compose herself, Yeo, wiping tears from her face and voice shaking, said: "I feel that I've been working hard and I know how I can play… (so) I feel disappointed in myself in this match. I wasn't able to stay calm and adapt to my opponent."
After a pause, she added: "I wasn't able to play my best game and fight harder than this."
Kim, 23, advanced to the knockout rounds after finishing top of Group K with two wins, having beaten Mexico's world No. 92 Haramara Gaitan last Saturday. Yeo, making her Olympic debut, had beaten Gaitan 21-7, 21-10 on Tuesday.
Yeo started well against Kim, scoring the first two points, but Kim came back strongly to level at 5-5, before surging into an assertive lead and taking the first game in 13 minutes.
Yeo then started the second game poorly, trailing 4-0, but found her footing thereafter. Kim, however, maintained a comfortable lead to see out the game.
Stiffening her voice, Yeo said she felt she had focused too much on herself and not enough on her opponent, adding that she was at a loss to explain why she "wasn't moving very well today".
"I didn't exploit enough of her weaknesses before I went for my attacks, and I was tense, so my (attacking) quality wasn't how it usually is, so she took advantage of those chances," she said.
Asked how her Games experience has been, a tender smile appeared on her face and she said she enjoyed immersing herself in the atmosphere of international competition again after a six-month gap because of the pandemic.
"But…" her voice trailed off. "I just didn't expect it to end like this."
Her eyes began to well, but this time, the tears did not flow.
Resolutely, she said: "I'm still disappointed, but I'll learn from this."
No doubt, she will.