Olympics: Saiyidah eyes Asian crown

Rower says her showing in Rio has given her belief that she'll be competitive at Asiad level

Saiyidah Aisyah, Singapore's first Olympic rower, said her mind let her down in yesterday's quarter-finals where she allowed negative thoughts to take hold.
Saiyidah Aisyah, Singapore's first Olympic rower, said her mind let her down in yesterday's quarter-finals where she allowed negative thoughts to take hold. PHOTO: REUTERS

For three-quarters of yesterday's single sculls race, rower Saiyidah Aisyah matched Asian Games gold medallist Kim Ye Ji stroke for stroke as both battled for an Olympic Games semi-final berth.

Neither woman succeeded and while Kim finished fourth and two spots ahead of the last-placed Singaporean in the gruelling 2,000m race, defeat was the furthest thing from Saiyidah's thoughts.

The 28-year-old clocked 7min 56sec in the first quarter-final at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Copacabana. The South Korean, the 2014 Asiad champion, timed 7:51.80.

The four-second gap was significant to Saiyidah, who was fourth at the halfway stage before being overtaken. She said: "It's given me a lot of confidence that I can be competitive at the Asian level. I've never been so close to her (Kim) and I know I can get better."

The race was won by New Zealand's 2014 world champion Emma Trigg, whose 7:31.79 effort was bettered only by Australian Kimberly Brennan (7:26.86) and American Genevra Stone (7:27.04) among the 24 competitors. Saiyidah was 21st overall.

  • +4.2

    Number of seconds by which Saiyidah Aisyah trailed Asian Games gold medallist Kim Ye Ji of South Korea. The gap, she says, is proof that she can compete at the Asian level.

Only the top three of each of the four quarter-finals advanced to the semi-finals while the rest will compete in the repechage rounds to determine their 13th-24th ranking.

Getting into the higher bracket would be an amazing accomplishment, noted Saiyidah, Singapore's first Olympic rower.

She is only the third Asian quarter-finalist in this event after China's Duan Jingli and Kim, and her adventure in Rio will strengthen her push for a medal at the 2018 Asiad in Indonesia. "That's definitely my next goal, to become an Asian champion," she said.

It will take more work, though. While the 1.73m Saiyidah has the physical strength to hold her own - "this is the fittest I've ever been" - her mind needs toughening.

"That's still my main weakness," she said when asked to analyse her race. "The third 500m, where you have to be really focused, is where I really struggle."

Instead of concentrating on her technique, she allowed negative thoughts like "my arms are feeling tense" and "the boat is getting imbalanced" to creep in and lost her bearing. She lamented: "I didn't stick to my race strategy unlike the first race and that's something I need to commit to better."

The 2013 SEA Games champion had moved to Sydney to train full-time last year with Australian coach Alan Bennett and had previously told The Straits Times that she will continue to train overseas.

Rowing will not feature at next year's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur but Saiyidah, who trains relentlessly before dawn six days a week, will not slow down. She said: "My coach pushes me hard because he believes in me. I'm slowly starting to believe in myself too."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline Olympics: Saiyidah eyes Asian crown. Subscribe