TOKYO - The first thing Singapore powerlifter Nur Aini Mohamad Yasli did upon reaching the Paralympic Athletes' Village after competing on Thursday (Aug 26) was to finally eat her favourite food, fried chicken.
After all, she had been on a strict diet of chicken breast, vegetables and healthier carbohydrates for months to maintain her weight ahead of the Paralympics.
"It (the chicken) was so good," said a grinning Aini, 29. "I haven't had it for very long so to finally have it, it tastes like heaven. I will definitely have more when I'm back in Singapore."
The treat came after she had lifted 77kg in the women's up to 45kg event to finish sixth of nine competitors in her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo International Forum. She is also the first powerlifter from Singapore to compete at the quadrennial Games.
Nigeria's Latifat Tijani took home the gold after lifting 107kg, ahead of China's Cui Zhe (102kg) and Justyna Kozdryk of Poland (101kg).
Speaking to The Straits Times later, Aini called the experience "eye-opening".
Indeed it was. The electronic dance music soundtrack blasting through the surround-sound speakers gave the event gym-like vibes, with the booming voice of the event commentator adding to the big-stage atmosphere.
"The bar is loaded, 77kg, representing Singapore, Nur Aini Mohamad Yasli," came the cue for the Singaporean to make her way on stage, her face steely with determination as she hoisted herself up onto the bench to prepare for her first lift.
But she lifted the bar only to lose her balance, with the bar tilting precariously to the left. The spotters stepped in immediately to grab the bar off her.
She knew it was terrible form, shaking her head as she tore off her wristguard to await her turn for her second lift which, this time, was far steadier.
Turning to the referee in anticipation, she smiled from ear to ear upon the announcement that it was a good lift, and even flashed a peace sign.
With a medal out of reach as rivals lifted heavier weights than her own personal best of 81kg, achieved in June en route to a bronze at the World Para Powerlifting World Cup in Dubai, she decided to go for broke during her third lift of 82kg.
While she missed her mark due to her bench press sequence, she has plenty to take heart from her Tokyo 2020 journey.
She said: "I was very, very happy that I managed to display the technique that I wanted to display. The goal here was to show we had proper technique in our lifts.
"I was pleased is even though I didn't do very well in my first lift, I managed to compartmentalise that and do better in my second lift. I was very pleased because I wasn't distracted by the result I got in the first place so I chucked that aside and then I improved myself on the second lift."
Looking ahead, she noted that she had less experience than her fellow competitors, and added that she had gained some valuable insights: "Having to compete alongside them, I've watched how they have also remained composed. So that is something I will also work on myself as well."
For now, she will simply enjoy what she termed "the Singapore spirit", the close bonds that have developed between the Team Singapore athletes and officials.
After returning to the village dining hall, she was greeted with a group hug from her housemates, swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Sophie Soon, with whom she ate the fried chicken.
They also drank chocolate milk out of a bowl as Soon said it was so good that a cup was not enough.
"The whole Singapore contingent is very close this time because it's a small one," explained Aini. "This morning, I was supposed to sleep in... so my housemates also slept in. They're all in solidarity with me. When I came back, they came to the dining hall to eat the fried chicken with me."
"That's the Singapore spirit we have. When all of us finish competing, we come together to celebrate," said Aini, who is now looking forward to eating pandan chiffon cake, hotpot and spicy food like nasi briyani when she is back home.
Beyond her Paralympic debut, she hopes to spark more interest in the sport.
Aini said: "I hope this inspires my teammates and people with disabilities who want to try out the sport. (I hope they know now) that there's this possibility to perform at a very high level in the sport. Hopefully with my debut, we will see more up-and-coming powerlifters from Singapore."