Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: Dazzling Debuts All Round
STORY: Ng Kai & Nicholas Yong
03 September 2021
(Clockwise from top) We couldn't be prouder of swimmer Toh Wei Soong, powerlifter Nur ’Aini Binte Mohamad Yasli, cyclist Steve Tee (in red helmet, with competition partner Ang Kee Meng), and swimmer Sophie Soon - all of whom made their debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. | Photos: Sport Singapore
How many of us can truly say that we do what we love, and love what we do? Toh Wei Soong is a great example of someone who is this blessed.
"[The Men's 50m Butterfly S7] is a really fun race to swim when you know what you’re doing. The race tonight, you know – I went out, had fun, did my best," says the 22-year-old Paralympics debutant, who undoubtedly knows what he's doing.
Just witness his performance in the Men’s 50m Butterfly S7 Finals, in which he finished 4th out of 8 – only 16 hundredths of a second short of a Bronze medal:
With a time of 29.50s, Wei Soong set another new National Record at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, shaving two seconds off the previous record. Last week, he broke his own National Record in 28.65s to finish 7th in the Men's 50m Freestyle S7 Final.
"This experience has been great so far. Being able to shave off almost two seconds from my butterfly 50m is tremendous. We've been working on a lot of things the past few years, and those things haven't come to full potential yet, so there's definitely a lot of room for improvement," says Wei Soong, adding that he is "excited to continue this journey".
The debutant says he would likely have performed even better if he could have swum a third time. After all, he had cut down his time from this morning's heats, a performance which was in itself "a huge leap from where I was".
"I think I did a pretty good job at carrying out the race plan, not letting my nerves get to me, and going out there and giving my best - went out fast, started strong, sped up at the back end so I didn’t slow down," he says. "Pretty happy with that!"
And so is the nation, dude! 🇸🇬
Loud cheers for our Paralympics debutants
Two words: Sibei ups.
Especially when you're an athlete making your debut on the world stage. Yes, for some of our representatives at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, it was their first time competing against the crème de la crème of the sporting world. Nevertheless, they have held their own alongside seasoned competitors, and have truly embodied the "Singapore Spirit" of strength, resilience and determination.
Read on, and be very inspired.
Toh Wei Soong | Swimming
Talk about amazing mental fortitude. Despite the unimaginable pressure at the highest levels of the sporting world, the 22-year-old has utter faith in his own abilities:
"The whole mindset I’ve been taking for this Paralympics is to really just enjoy the experience. I just have to trust that whatever I’ve practised and whatever work I’ve done will pay off. You can’t force something like speed, you just have to go at it and just race".
Wei Soong has also addressed his and his fellow atheletes' perseverace throughout the COVID-19 sitch, saying that this is "a really special Games and everyone who has made the journey here has a story to tell with how they’ve dealt with COVID-19 and the major shifts we’ve all had to make to training plans and lack of competitions".
"We are still doing our best regardless and we all have this common experience. I’m really happy to be here and to make my Paralympic debut," said Wei Soong, after clocking a time of 5:06.39 and finishing 7th out of 8 at the Men's 400M Freestyle S7 Finals.
Nur Aini Binte Mohamad Yasli | Powerlifting
Say hello to Singapore's first para-powerlifter at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
"Not getting the personal best is unfortunate. However, I'm still quite happy with what we achieved today as we displayed our technique properly during the competition. Overall, I am still satisfied with what we did. My coach and I showed that we could compete at this level and I hope to continue improving," says Aini.
"I hope to inspire my teammates and others with disabilities to perform at a high level. Hopefully, we will see more people participating in this sport in the future."
The 29-year-old lifted a whopping 77kg for the Women's Powerlifting 45kg Finals, coming in 6th out of 9.
Sophie Soon | Swimming
Wrote Sophie in an IG post before making her way to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games: "It's been one heck of a season, never have I felt more dead and alive at the same time 🥴. But in all honesty, I'm so so grateful to have this team to push me beyond anything I thought was possible."
And push herself the 24-year-old did - she marked her debut by competing in the Women's 100M Butterfly S13 Heats with a time of 1:28.61, and then coming in 4th out of 7 with a time of 1:29.52 at the Women's 100M Breaststroke SB12 Fnals.
"I am overall very happy even though it's not a Personal Best or Season Best. But in terms of ranking, and for my Paralympic debut, I am very happy with the outcome and to come in 4th," says Sophie.
"What makes me happier is that there was a Singaporean crowd there cheering me on. I could here them cheering and screaming and I could hear how happy and excited they were after the race ended. I'm really happy to have done them proud and that they are happy about the race. It reminds me of why I'm a Team Singapore athlete and I want to represent my country here. It is a big honour that I can do so here at the Tokyo Paralympics!"
What's next for Sophie? A short (and well-deserved) break, "but not too long", she promises. "I want to get back and set new personal bests for my next season, especially for next year's Asian Para Games in Hangzhou and the world championships. I'll definitely be pushing on for these competitions."
Steve Tee | Cycling
The 39-year-old certainly has a competitive spirit that's as fiery as the shock of red hair he proudly sports as well as, of course, the new Personal Bests he's set with competition partner and pilot Ang Kee Meng.
"It feels really great to break another Personal Best in our non-pet event. Our hard work and training really paid off. We are really happy with our double Personal Best results. I would say a mission impossible became possible. We look forward to our next event where we have set some goals for ourselves. Our usual average speeds for previous races was around 40km/hr. We aim to better this on Tuesday," said Steve, after clocking 1:10.886 at the Men's B 1000m Time Trial finals, and finishing 8th out of 10.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck did not shine on them for the Cycling Road - Men's B Time Trial 32km Finals, as they did not finish due to a mechanical issue (broken chain ring). Despite the setback, there were only smiles and positive vibes from both of them:
"Overall we are really happy with our debut results, hitting our targets of breaking Personal Best and getting into top 10 in both events. I would say it has been a fruitful Games. I would like to use my quote for this whole experience, where our Paralympic journey and dream has come true - 'Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no journey far enough. Keep believing and keep chasing, your dream will come true'," says Steve.
"I look forward to heading back to Singapore, to have a good rest and take a short break, before we go again."
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