Life after the Olympics – S'pore athletes back in training, school, and pigging out

SINGAPORE – What swimmer Quah Ting Wen did when she got home after completing her 14-day quarantine on Monday (Aug 16) was unpack her luggage from the Tokyo Olympics.

And then she started packing again. The 28-year-old is heading to Naples, Italy on Sunday to represent United States-based team DC Trident in the International Swimming League (ISL), a short-course inter-team competition.

She also went for a much-needed haircut before returning to training at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Tuesday.

Over the last two weeks, Singapore’s 23 athletes who competed at the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Games – some of whom are still serving their stay-home notice (SHN) in hotels – have been busy making to-do lists, taking spin classes, indulging in their favourite foods and catching up with family and friends.

Quah had also spent her time in quarantine doing cardio and weights workouts using equipment like a stationary bike and resistance bands four to five times a week.

There was also plenty of time for self-reflection, as she said: “I learnt (in Tokyo) that… the mind can push you further but your body and mind have to work together.

“Just watching people make the most out of the situation… We saw some out-of-this-world swims. It sucks with Covid-19; some people who were expected to perform fell short, but we had a lot of surprise swims by people you didn’t expect.

“It goes to show these have been an interesting two years and kudos to the swimmers who made the most of every opportunity they could to train and learn to adapt and are reaping the rewards at the Games.”

Others like shuttler Loh Kean Yew adapted to training indoors with two 90-minute sessions a day in his hotel room juggling shuttlecocks and working on his footwork and fitness.

After checking out last Saturday, Loh had a steamboat meal with his brother Kean Hean and some friends, but not before being stuck on the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway for over an hour after the tyre on his hire vehicle burst.

Food was also on table tennis player Feng Tianwei’s priority list as the first thing she did after her campaign was to have a hearty yakiniku (Japanese grilled meat) meal. The 34-year-old veteran is still in Japan as she will be playing for Nippon Paint Mallets in the T.League which starts in September.

Epee fencer Kiria Tikanah ate so much during a belated Hari Raya Haji celebration with relatives on National Day – when she finished her SHN – that she had to beg off training the same day as she was “still full with Hari Raya food”.

But the National University of Singapore chemistry undergraduate was back on the piste and in school the next day.

Diver Jonathan Chan also hit the books during his first week in quarantine as the final-year architecture undergraduate at the Singapore University of Technology and Design had to submit an assignment on Monday.

He plans to take a short break and catch up with friends when he is out before starting an architecture internship in October.

In the meantime, he plans to attend online spin classes with fellow diver Freida Lim, who is also still serving her SHN.

He said: “We were waiting for me to finish my submissions then we can play a bit. After I get out, I’ll probably ‘nua’ (Hokkien for relax) at home for a while.”

After a whirlwind 17 days at Tokyo 2020 and two weeks spent in isolation, Singapore’s Olympians have also had time to reflect on the lessons learnt there. The majority of the 23-strong squad – 17 of them – were debutants, including Loh, who exited at the group stage of the men’s singles with one win and a loss.

The 24-year-old said he was inspired by Chinese diver Quan Hongchan, 14, who won two gold medals.

“When I was her age, I was still playing computer games and choosing rackets; she is so young and already an Olympic champion,” he said. “It just shows her commitment to her craft which all athletes can learn from.”

Seasoned table tennis players Yu Mengyu and Feng said they learnt more about themselves in a gruelling campaign in Tokyo.

Yu, who finished career-best fourth in the women’s singles in her second Olympic outing said: “I discovered the determination, resilience and never-say-die spirit within me, which has led me to grit my teeth and climb back after each fall.

“I don’t regret persevering with table tennis as a profession and am proud of being able to fight for my country’s honour.”

Yu, who turns 32 on Wednesday, added that it was heartwarming to see the support and concern from Singaporeans and she is honoured to bring “positivity to people through my hard work”.

Adding that it was an “an unprecedentedly arduous Olympics”, Feng said she learnt “to adapt and adjust to the many uncertainties and changes”.

“I was surprised that my passion for the Olympics remained undiminished and it still meant a lot to me even though these were my fourth Games,” she added.

For Olympic debutant Kiria, 21, Tokyo 2020 reminded her why she enjoys fencing as witnessing top athletes in action has motivated her to train harder.

She also took inspiration from major upsets in fencing and tennis, where world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was beaten in the semis, as well as Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs’ unexpected win in the men’s 100m sprint.

“You would think because it’s the Olympics everyone is prepared, especially the top fencers, so you don’t expect that,” she added.

“But it appeared the lower seed always had the chance of upset, and when it came to my time to compete I really thought I would be one of them and upset the world No. 1 (Ana Maria Popescu)! To me it shows that at the Olympics, anyone stands a chance to win. You’re not bound by your ranking or your (perceived) level.”

As Team Singapore’s athletes ready for school or more competitions for the rest of the year, Quah is making time to celebrate her 29th birthday on Wednesday with her family.

While she has not made any plans yet, she is happy to be celebrating it at home with her father, just like last year. Her mother and siblings Zheng Wen and Jing Wen are in the United States.

She said: “I like being at home and in my personal space for (my birthday) and I’m glad I’ll be with my dad. We always go to Paradise Dynasty (restaurant) as a family but I don’t know where I want to go yet.

“It doesn’t have to be anything special but I just want to spend it with people I care about.”

Additional reporting by David Lee, Sazali Abdul Aziz, Kimberly Kwek

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