Pregame jitters are normal for athletes before the start of a competition.
But as Angela Toh stepped onto the competition mat in the hall of the Ministry of Education headquarters at Mount Sinai yesterday, she felt a different type of anxiety, for what stood before her was not a panel of taekwondo judges but a video camera.
This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the judging for the Schools National A Division taekwondo (poomsae) competition is different from previous editions - it will be done off-site via video analysis rather than at the competition venue.
The judging will take place from May 17 to 20.
The new format has split opinion among the student-athletes, who nevertheless tried to adapt to it in the little time that they had.
Angela, captain of the Victoria Junior College (VJC) girls' team, pointed out that the athletes faced a different challenge because the judges would be able to scrutinise their poomsae - a series of attack and defence forms - performances on the recording, which otherwise would not have been possible with live judging. The challenge inspired her and her teammates to put on a more "polished performance" instead.
"In real life, our routines tend to convey a lot more power and energy, but for video format (of judging), we have to do a lot more just for the judges to see the minute details, so we had to learn to adapt to it," added the 18-year-old.
Tan Je-ric from Anderson Serangoon Junior College, said: "At the end of our pattern, we have this shout. There is more clarity when they (the judges) are over there, compared to when you're recording it because the sound system may not be so audible."
But the 17-year-old added that he preferred the video format as he "gets nervous when there are eyes on me".
The video judging format was not the only safety measure in play at the event. The competing schools arrived at staggered timings to prevent intermingling, and upon arrival, the athletes were ushered to the warm-up area on the first floor to prepare.
A maximum of 12 athletes were allowed into the competition venue at any one time. The closed-door tournament meant no spectators or teammates were allowed in.
Chan Li En, 17, vice-captain of the Tampines Meridian Junior College girls' team, said: "With this whole new setting of just a camera staring at you, you don't really feel the direct support of your teammates because they aren't physically present, so the whole atmosphere is very different."
Still, the Victorians found motivation in other ways.
Koh En Han, vice-captain of VJC's girls' team, said: "While we were leaving the school, there were schoolmates cheering us on while they were having their recess break, and that was really heartening for us."
The final results will be released in two weeks after the video analysis judging is completed.
Zhang Yani, 19, from Tampines Meridian JC, said: "While it is my first time participating in this competition, I'm really proud of myself and my teammates for the performance we put up as I feel like we didn't really make any mistakes.
"I'm confident that we can get a medal, and during these two weeks, I'm gonna pray for the best results!"