SINGAPORE - It is normal for athletes to become a bundle of nerves just before their competition starts.
But as Angela Toh stepped on to the competition mat in the school hall of the Ministry of Education headquarters at Mount Sinai on Wednesday (May 5), 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 A Division taekwondo (poomsae) competition in the National School Games is different from previous iterations - it will be done off-site via video analysis rather than at the competition venue.
The judging will take place from May 17-20.
The new format of judging has split opinion among the athletes, who nevertheless tried to adapt to the new format of judging in the little time that they had.
Angela, captain of the Victoria Junior College girls' team, pointed out that the athletes faced a different challenge because the judges would be able to scrutinise their performances on the recording, which otherwise would not have been possible with live judging. Nevertheless, this inspired her and her team-mates 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.
Je-ric Tan, 17, from Anderson Serangoon Junior College, noted that performing in front of judges has its advantages. "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 (the shout) because the sound system may not be so audible," he explained.
However, he actually preferred the video format, adding: "I actually get nervous when there are eyes on me."
The video judging format was not the only safety measure in play at the event.
The various 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 total of 12 mats were evenly spread out across the area to ensure safe distancing between the students as they made their final preparations.
The athletes, identified by their number tags, were then called upon to enter the competition venue on the second floor, where a maximum of 12 athletes were allowed in at any one time. In addition, athletes were required to wear face masks at all times, barring the times when they were practising or competing.
Athletes who had finished their routines were ushered to another waiting area at the stadium grandstand to wait for the rest of their teammates, while those who were competing in another event would proceed down to the warm-up area to prepare again.
This meant that there were no cheering team-mates and spectators for the competition, unlike in previous years.
Vice-captain of Tampines Meridian Junior College girls' team, Chan Li En, 17, 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 managed to find a different source of support despite the lack of spectators.
Koh En Han, vice-captain of VJC's girls' team said: "We received a lot of support back in school as well. 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 only in two weeks after the video analysis judging is completed but in the meantime, the athletes are already eagerly anticipating the results.
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!"