Ready, Get Set, Sail!!

Sailors make up almost half of the Singapore contingent participating at the 2016 Olympics. Three of them tell us what it takes to compete at the world’s biggest sporting event.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Sailors make up almost half of the Singapore contingent participating at the 2016 Olympics. Three of them tell us what it takes to compete at the world’s biggest sporting event.

At the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this August, all eyes will be on the sailors representing our nation. And it’s no surprise why. They caught everyone’s attention when it was announced that 10 out of the 22 athletes in the Singapore contingent are sailors. That’s the largest number for any sport.

But the sport has a relatively low profile, so we spoke to three sailors to find out more about it, and the preparation required to compete at such a prestigious event. Meet Elizabeth Yin, 24, a full-time athlete; Amanda Ng, 22, an undergraduate at the Singapore Management University; and Jovina Choo, 26, a sports development officer at the Special Olympics Singapore.

This will be Elizabeth’s second Olympics. She participated in 2012, where she came in 24th in the Women’s Laser Radial event. Jovina and Amanda are first-timers. They race together in the Women’s 470 event. Amanda also happens to be the youngest athlete in the Singapore contingent.

Naturally, they are excited and proud to represent their nation at the Olympics. “This has been my ultimate dream since I was a young sailor. Now that I’m finally taking part, I feel that my years of hard work have paid off ,” says Amanda. “My goal is to take away as much experience as I can from racing against the world’s best, and sail my best.”

Adds Jovina: “We’ve been putting in many hours to improve our boat speed and racing tactics. We hope that we will be able to sail as fast as the top sailors.”

The athletes have been training intensely – mostly outside of Singapore – for months now. “When we are overseas, our daily schedule comprises food preparation, hitting the gym, sailing and resting,” says Amanda. Their efforts will culminate at the Olympics this month, and we look forward to seeing how they perform.

Vest from Topshop. Sports bra and pants from New Balance. Shoes from Marks & Spencer. Cuff from H&M.
Vest from Topshop. Sports bra and pants from New Balance. Shoes from Marks & Spencer. Cuff from H&M.
“Being out at sea feels like being on an adventure.”_Elizabeth Yin 
Tell us more about the event you’ll be competing in at the olympic games.

Elizabeth: “I will be competing in the Women’s Laser Radial event – the women’s one-person dinghy in a Laser Radial. There will be a series of races, and each one lasts around an hour.”

Amanda: “Jovina and I will be racing together in the Women’s 470 event.”

Jovina: “The 470 is a double-handed dinghy, which means it is a boat sailed with two persons on board. It’s named the 470 as it is 4.7m in length.”

What’s the most common misconception people have about sailing?

E: “People think it’s relaxing and you don’t do much at all. That’s not true.”

A: “That it is very difficult. Actually, after just one sailing lesson, you’d probably be able to steer a boat by yourself.”

J: “That it’s like windsurfing. Until I show them a picture of our boat.”

When did you start sailing? And was it love at first sail?

E: “I started when I was about 10, when I chose it as a CCA at school. Until my A levels, I always had to manage my time between the sport and my studies. At university, I was able to defer my studies. I love sailing and wanted to see how far I could go, so I decided to go full-time into training to qualify and compete at the Olympics.”

A: “I tried it for the first time when I was seven. However, one stormy day at sea was all it took to scare me. When I was 12, a slightly bigger and stronger me decided to give it another shot. This time, I absolutely loved it! I was motivated to train hard so I could do well in my races. I got invited to the National Optimist Squad back in 2007 – if I recall correctly – and that was when I started to take sailing more seriously.”

J: “I started sailing when I was 10. My parents sent my brothers and me for a basic sailing course during the school holidays. I then continued with weekly classes. I started taking part in competitions, and eventually did well enough to get into the national team. I’ve been training full-time since January this year, when I took unpaid leave from work.”

Top and skirt from Topshop. Cuff from H&M.
Top and skirt from Topshop. Cuff from H&M.
“I love the challenges that come with sailing.”_Amanda NG
What do you love about the sport?

E: “I love being outdoors. And there are manyfactors in sailing that you have to take into account, such as the variable wind speed and direction, and the waves and currents. It never gets monotonous. Being out at sea feels like being on an adventure, especially when it’s stormy.”

A: “Its challenges. Like Elizabeth said, the weather, wind and wave conditions are constantly changing, which means that every race is unique. This forces sailors to process information and adapt to situations quickly. We are required to make decisions on the spot while working hard to make the boat go fast.”

J: “It gives me the opportunity to travel and sail in different parts of the world, be it in open seas, rivers or lakes. Being on the water allows me to see a new place from a different perspective, and the view is always prettier from the water.”

What qualities do you need to excel as a sailor?

E: “You need to be aware of the changing elements, to be adaptable to such changes and have the mental strength to deal with the challenges.”

A: “Precision, versatility and determination.”

J: “Focus, discipline and tenacity. Focus because races tend to be long and require full concentration throughout. Any lapse in focus results in mistakes that can be costly. Discipline, as we not only have to be disciplined in training our bodies to be in the best physical form, we have to be in checking and maintaining our equipment daily as well. Tenacity because sailing as a sport is unpredictable. Winds can change and positions can alter really quickly, so it is important to stay focused and keep fighting till we cross the finish line.”

Jacket and leggings from H&M. Top from Topshop. Shoes from Kurt Geiger.
Jacket and leggings from H&M. Top from Topshop. Shoes from Kurt Geiger.
“A new place always looks prettier when you see it from the water.”_Jovina Choo
How important is winning?

E: “Winning is a confidence booster.”

A: “It is important to me, but it is not the most important thing. Winning means nothing if you lose the respect of your competitors. What means more to me than winning is whether I deserved it.”

J: “It isn’t everything, as cliched as it sounds. Such is the nature of the sport that there can be only one winner. I take part in a competition always striving to do my best – and winning is a bonus.”

What do you do for fun?

E: “I enjoy rock climbing whenever I have a break, and there is a place to rock climb nearby as well as a friend for company. So far, I’ve been to the French Pyrenees, the Blue Mountains, Krabi and Lake Garda.”

A: “After a long day of training, I love watching Youtube videos in bed or reading a book to rest both my mind and body. The last book I read was And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.”

J: “My current favourite pastime is rock climbing too. I try to go climbing once a week if I am not too tired from training. In Singapore, I go to the climbing gyms. Climbing is a social activity, so I get to meet up with my friends while getting a workout at the same time. I also climb so that I can get better at it and be able to do outdoor naturalwall ascends. It’s also not a secret that I’m a bookworm. I read mostly novels that span a range of genres, from fantasy and romance to biographies.”

What’s your life motto?

E: “Never give up. Otherwise, why start in the first place?”

A: “Go hard or go home. I believe that if you want to achieve something, you have to commit your all to it. Going into something half-hearted isn’t going to make your time and effort worthwhile.”

J: “Everything in life one must try. Life is short, and it is too short to live with regrets. So if there’s an opportunity to do something I’ve not done before, I would try it. If I like it, great. If I don’t, then that’s the end of it. But if I don’t try, I’ll never know.”