SINGAPORE — Up on the winners' podium, clutching her fourth Paralympic gold medal, tears welled up in Yip Pin Xiu's eyes as she sang her country's national anthem "Majulah Singapura" and the Singapore flag rose slowly up to the rafters at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre on Wednesday (25 August).
She had just become the first Singaporean to successfully defend the gold medal at the Paralympics, winning the women's 100m backstroke (S2) final for a second straight Games after her world-record triumph in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
And she did it in dominant style, clocking 2min 16.61sec winning by a massive 9.56-second margin ahead of silver-medallist Miyuki Yamada of Japan (2:26.18). Fabiola Ramirez of Mexico clinched the bronze in 2:36.54.
Yet, the 29-year-old still struggled to contain her emotions during the medal ceremony, and she told Yahoo News Singapore later that she had gone through a rough patch with the uncertainties brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past one-and-a-half years.
"This is the first time I've defended my gold, and there was a lot of hard work put into it," Yip said during an online media interview after her medal ceremony.
"It has been a rough year of preparations, both for myself and my team; we worked really hard, and there were days when there were many doubts and uncertainties. But I've been receiving an outpour of well-wishes from Singaporeans especially in the past few days, and so winning the event made it really special and emotional."
Indeed, the pandemic had disrupted Yip's training plans and caused competitions around the world to be cancelled in the past year. During last year's circuit-breaker period, she was not able to train in the pool, and she was worried about her performance, as her muscle dystrophy condition meant a long period of adjustment to reach peak form.
Even in the days leading up to her race, she was having nervous pangs as she fretted about how she would perform after five years away from her last Paralympics outing. Yet, she was adamant that winning the gold made it all worthwhile.
"It's something I would do it again, 100 per cent. I'll take the pain, I'll take the struggles, but to hear the national anthem here is magnificent," she said.
Yip had qualified fastest for the final during the morning heat, touching the wall in a time of 2:14.46, nearly 18 seconds ahead of China's Feng Yazhu (2:32.44). She holds the world record of this event at 2:07.09, set during her gold-medal swim at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Prior to her gold in Tokyo, Yip has already won three golds and one silver since making her Paralympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The former Nominated Member of Parliament won her first gold in the women's 50m backstroke (S3) event in Beijing, and as her muscles degenerated with age, she moved to the S2 category and won another two golds at the 2016 Rio Games, setting world records in the women's 50m and 100m backstroke races.
Yip has one more event in Tokyo, as she will defend her women's 50m backstroke title on 2 September.
Other Singapore Paralympians in action
Another Singapore para-swimmer, debutant Sophie Soon, clocked 1:28.61 in her women's 100m butterfly (S13) heats on Wednesday morning.
That placed her 18th out of 18 participants in the event, and she did not advance to the final. The 24-year-old has one more competition to go: the women's 100m breaststroke (SB14) on 1 September.
Over at the Izu Velodrome, track cyclist Steve Tee, together with pilot Ang Kee Meng, clocked their personal-best time of 4min 40.453sec in the men's 4,000m individual pursuit (Class B) qualifying round, allowing them to beat Hungary's Robert Ocelka and pilot Gergely Nagy (4:42.401) in the third heat.
However, they finished ninth out of 14 competitors and did not advance to the medal races. Only the top four duos go on to the final races.
Nonetheless, Tee has achieved his goal of improving his previous fastest time of 4:47.414 set at the 2019 Para Asian Track Championships in Jakarta.
He and Ang will be taking part in two more events: the men's 1,000m time trial (Class B) on Saturday, and the men's time trial (Class B) road race next Tuesday.
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