SINGAPORE - As she stepped onto the starting blocks for her final 400m race at the Schools National Track and Field Championships on Friday (March 15), Diane Pragasam felt more pressure than ever.
The Singapore Sports School student had won this event at the meet every year since 2014 and planned on completing her schools career with a clean sweep.
"The pressure was definitely greater. It felt as if my six years of track just boiled down to this one race," said the 17-year-old.
"It was also pressure from friends, the school and my family but it's natural to expect me to maintain the standard over the years."
Furthermore, Diane had run four races - the 200m and 400m heats and semi-finals, and she won them all - in four days before yesterday's event and was starting to feel the fatigue and muscle aches.
Lining up in lane five in the A Division race at Choa Chu Kang Stadium, she led at the 200m mark.
But, as she approached the last 100m, Amanda Woo of Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) was closing down and it looked as though Diane might lose her winning streak.
But she managed to focus on herself and breasted the tape first, just 0.36 seconds ahead of Amanda in a personal-best 61.00, with HCI's Phoebe Lau third a long way back in 63.42.
"I think it is very exciting to finish first again this year because I'm not just doing it for myself. I'm doing it for my school and my family too," said Diane.
"These are the two main platforms that have supported me throughout the six years."
As the athletics season is more packed - with the events close together this year - her training regimen was changed to fit the new arrangement.
"The training was definitely more rigorous than I was used to. But I'm lucky that my coach, the school and the general manager were able to talk to me to calm me down.
"They helped me to remain calm and helped me to gain confidence in myself even though the clock was ticking," she said.
Diane has also been carrying a knee injury on and off for four years, which made it challenging for her to break her previous best of 61.04, set in 2017.
"I run all my races as if it's my last race because I don't know when the injury might affect me," she added.
"It's definitely challenging to work around the injury, especially for sprint events, because you need a lot of bio-mechanics and constant speed work.
"It was hard to gain the amount of strength that others could gain easily. But I tried not to look at the things that I can't do and instead focus on the things that I can do and do my best."
Her coach, Remy Gan, was proud of her for finishing first and said: "It's a big feat, the pressure is really on her and she delivered - she has been training well.
"She was definitely nervous but she set a target for herself and had a race plan. She's a hardworking athlete."
While Diane hopes to continue training in track and field, she does not have a specific plan for her future.
"I'm still hoping to train hard and to see how far I can go."
HCI bagged the most number of medals on Friday with three golds, two silvers and four bronzes.
Raffles Institution and the Sports School won five medals each, with both garnering an identical three golds, one silver and one bronze.