Rowing: Anxious wait over as Joan Poh earns Olympic berth

Singapore rower Joan Poh at the Asia and Oceania qualification regatta in Tokyo, which took place on May 6 and 7, 2021. PHOTO: KOH YUHAN

SINGAPORE - A 20-day wait to find out if one has made it to the Olympics is hard enough, but national rower Joan Poh's wait was made tougher by having to serve a 21-day quarantine at Hotel Jen Tanglin.

As the end of her quarantine drew near, Poh finally received the news that she had been waiting for on Thursday (May 28): confirmation from the World Rowing Federation that her 12th-place finish at the Asia and Oceania qualification regatta in Tokyo on May 7 was enough for her to earn a maiden Olympic appearance.

The 30-year-old said: "I've been waiting on this for quite a while. As much as I explained that this is part of the whole journey, it turned out to be a bit more than what I expected.

"As you go along everything starts to add up a bit more, that also made a bit of difference."

Team manager Koh Yuhan, who is also serving her 21-day quarantine, said: "Waiting for the news was already hard, waiting in quarantine was a little bit harder because there was no way she could talk to anyone else that she could talk to anyone else other than via video and over the phone.

"It was very unnerving because she also wanted to know how she should plan."

The first thing that Poh did when she heard the news was to call Koh and the pair then reached out to a handful of people who have been key figures in Poh's Olympic campaign.

They then celebrated while enjoying a Grab Food delivery meal over a video conference call.

Before Poh knew that she was headed to Tokyo, she and Koh had come up with two plans: one for if she qualified and one for if she did not.

To make sure she was physically ready, Poh brought in equipment like a rowing machine, stationary bike, kettlebell and resistance band to train with twice a day.

Now that Poh has secured a place, the lead up to the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Games will be hectic as she scrambles to settle the necessary logistics.

One of which is to ensure that her coach Laryssa Biesenthal, a Canadian former athlete and Olympic bronze medallist who has been working with Poh on a pro bono basis, will be able to make it to Singapore.

Poh, a staff nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), will have to find the funds to cover the cost of Biesenthal's stay and bring her to the Olympics.

She will also need to look for a new team manager as Koh, who also works at TTSH, has used up her annual leave as a result of the extended quarantine period.

Team manager Koh Yuhan and rower Joan Poh in Tokyo (left). Poh stuck a note on her rigger (right) ahead of her final race. PHOTOS: KOH YUHAN

While the situation is less than ideal, Poh and Koh have overcome hurdles many times before.

Koh said: "Every phase of the journey was like that, trying to navigate the limitations, so we were just telling each other we will be relieved and celebrate tonight, tomorrow the hard work begins.

"We're going to reach out to the different people, write in, make requests, make logistical arrangements, get back into a training schedule, stuff like that."

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