Team S'pore ready for battle

They are not letting Village life, or unusual circumstances, distract them from their task

People gather in front of the Olympic countdown clock yesterday, the eve of the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020. The Games will finally raise their curtains today after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
People gather in front of the Olympic countdown clock yesterday, the eve of the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020. The Games will finally raise their curtains today after a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Quah siblings Ting Wen and Zheng Wen may be veterans of two Olympics each but the Tokyo Games are nothing like what they have experienced.

At every corner of the Olympic Village, home for the next 10 days, lies a reminder that they are competing in a time of Covid-19.

Masks are compulsory everywhere they go and in the dining hall, athletes are given disposable gloves and while the food options remain aplenty, they are separated by dividers during meals.

Each morning, they have to spit into a test tube for a coronavirus test and they have to fill in a wellness questionnaire.

While the situation might feel alien for many, it is business as usual for Singapore's athletes as they get ready to roll when the curtains finally come up on the coronarvirus-delayed Tokyo Games tonight.

Zheng Wen, 24, is "as ready as can be". He will kick off his campaign in the 100m backstroke heats on Sunday, with the 100m and 200m butterfly heats to follow.

He is already eyeing his first Olympic final after becoming the first Singaporean male swimmer to qualify for a semi-final at Rio 2016. He told The Straits Times: "I'll do my best, and I want to be better than I was five years ago when I made the semi-final (of the 200m fly).

"I want to make a final. Anything can happen in finals."

Banking on his experience from the previous two Games, he added: "It helps us be more relaxed as we know what to expect in the build-up to the races."

But for elder sister Ting Wen, pre-game jitters are par for the course as she prepares to compete in the 100m freestyle heats next Wednesday and 50m next Friday.

The 28-year-old, who competed at Beijing 2008 and 2016 Rio, said: "With a few days to go, I get a little bit nervous thinking about it. But when the meet starts, I tend to be more focused and less distracted by the chaos that this pandemic is creating."

While Ting Wen noted that "people are more cautious now" in the Village owing to the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, there is still much to cheer about as the siblings were finally reunited after being apart for more than a year.

Ting Wen had been training in Singapore while Zheng Wen was finishing up his molecular cell biology degree at the University of California, Berkeley.

The duo have been exploring the Village together and even shared an amusing story of the time Ting Wen forgot her swimsuit and had trouble unlocking her room door when she went to retrieve it.

With a sheepish laugh, she said: "I called Zheng for help but did not see him. After a while, I heard him call 'Jie' faintly, and I realised I was on the wrong floor."

She shares an apartment at the Village with rower Joan Poh, equestrienne Caroline Chew, and fencers Amita Berthier and Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman - all of whom are making their Olympic debut.

Epee fencer Kiria will get her first outing tomorrow in the round of 64 at the Makuhari Messe Hall B, and the 21-year-old is both anxious and excited.

She said: "It's not going to be easy, but I'm ready to put up a good fight against some of the best in the world.

"I'm not going to put extra pressure on myself by telling myself that I need to win. I think focusing on my preparations helps calm my nerves better."

Shuttler Loh Kean Yew will face Asian Games champion Jonatan Christie and refugee athlete Aram Mahmoud when the badminton competition starts tomorrow.

Having already trained at the event venue at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, the 24-year-old noted that there was not much draught and "it is quite nice to hit".

He said: "Everything in the Village is nice. There are souvenirs and there are photos to be taken, but all these are distractions from the real reason we are here.

"As we get closer to the start date, the more we look forward to competing. The draw has been made and we are preparing in more detail, so let our Games begin!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Team S'pore ready for battle'. Subscribe