Olympics: Sailors Lim and Low's historic achievement in Tokyo built on years of hard work

SINGAPORE – Kimberly Lim and Cecilia Low made history by becoming the nation’s first sailors to qualify for a medal race after just four days of racing at the Tokyo Olympics, but few know the pair’s feat was built on seven years of hard work.

Ensuring a successful Olympic campaign meant focusing not just on their performances on the water, but also handling the logistics of training and competing and being away from home for months on end. The pair were based in Portugal for at least seven months ahead of the Olympics.

Lim, 25, said: “It’s something that you’re thinking about every single day, like how can I better myself in any aspect at all.

“Even when we’re on a break, it’s hard to switch off because you’re thinking about your campaign, this is what you want to achieve and do.”

Lim and Low, who finished 10th at the Tokyo Olympics in the 49erFX class, were speaking at an [email protected] panel discussion titled Lessons From Tokyo. The virtual event, shared on The Straits Times’ Facebook page on Friday (Aug 27), was hosted by assistant sports editor Rohit Brijnath and sports correspondent David Lee, who covered the Olympic Games for ST.

Low revealed that the going was far from smooth, and that they had to overcome the fear of sailing in windy conditions, which could cause them to get flung to the front of their boat or even off it, early in their campaign.

“One of the difficult moments in our campaign was to get over the fear of it and there is so much effort we put in during these five years,” said Low, 30.

“Even waking up, not wanting to go and train because you know it’s going to be a tough day. But in the end, the passion we have for the sport and how we want to perform in the last week in the boat was something that kept us going and we also have each other, we are always pushing each other on.”

In the 40-minute [email protected] session, they offered a glimpse of the less glamorous parts of elite athletes’ journeys, also addressing the importance of the conversations surrounding mental health that have emerged after US gymnastics star Simone Biles withdrew from several events at the Games due to mental health issues.

Lim said: “Awareness is the most important thing. We always talk about physical health like injuries and rehabilitation, but there’s so little spoken about mental health and that’s one of the biggest components in sport and in your life.”

Low added that they had been working with psychologists since they were teenagers to help them handle the challenging aspects of their sporting careers.

One such aspect is failure, and they discussed the public’s reaction to Joseph Schooling’s inability to make it out of the heats in the defence of his 100m butterfly title in Tokyo.

While there were negative comments directed at the 2016 Olympic champion, there was also an outpouring of support for the swimmer from public figures, including fellow athletes.

Lim said: “The public just needs to know that athletes are humans. We live a very extraordinary life, we push the boundaries all the time, but we also fail all the time and sometimes that happens on the biggest stage and that’s okay.

“There needs to be awareness that when someone’s winning we celebrate, but when they’re losing, you don’t put them down and hurt them. People have to understand that in sport you fail more than you succeed and that’s how you grow.”

They noted how Schooling’s feat at the Rio Olympics remained significant in that it gave other local athletes the belief that they could compete with the world’s best.

Low: “We started before Rio and a lot of Singaporeans would think that it’s not proven, you’re wasting your time, it’s better to study and work. There were comments like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ It’s not a guarantee but it was something that we’ve been dreaming of since we were young.

“When he won the gold, it was like, ‘Yeah, somebody from Singapore did it so why wouldn’t we be the next?’ So he made the whole country proud and helped a lot of athletes have the courage to go after their dreams.”

For more information and resources on this topic, use the keywords “Olympic Games” and “mental health” to search ProQuest Central at this website (https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/Main/browse/resource/1111) – a database the National Library Board subscribes to.A myLibraryID is required to access the database.

If you do not have a myLibraryID, you can go to this website (https://account.nlb.gov.sg/) and sign up for one using SingPass or identity card number or Foreign Identification Number.

[email protected] is a collaboration between The Straits Times and the National Library Board. The video recording of the event and past sessions can be found at this website (https://www.straitstimes.com/tags/ask-nlb).

Recommended reading

– Mental health management of elite athletes during Covid-19: a narrative review and recommendations

– Olympic Games as Mega-Sport Events: Some Social-Historical Reflections on Recent Summer Olympic Games

– Lifestyles and mindsets of Olympic, Paralympic and world champions: is an integrated approach the key to elite performance?

– Sports, storytelling and social media: a review and conceptualization

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