Paralympics: Swimmer Pin Xiu is Singapore's golden girl
BEIJING: She was nursing a sore throat, but the only thing Yip Pin Xiu wanted to do just before she launched herself into the water at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing on Monday was to empty her mind.
Coach Ang Peng Siong was familiar with his swimmer's routine and kept his instructions to a minimum.
The strategy paid off spectacularly as the 16-year-old became the first Singapore athlete to win gold at the Paralympic Games when she touched home first in the 50m backstroke (S3).
Pin Xiu, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, touched the wall first in 58.75 seconds, finishing a whopping 7.32 seconds faster than silver medallist Fran Williamson of Great Britain (1:06.07), with Xia Jiangbo of China coming in third (1:07.97).
The Singapore star was clearly primed for gold, after breaking her own world record in the morning heats with a time of 57.92 seconds, bettering her previous mark of 1:00.80 set at the US Paralympic Games in April.
Pin Xiu's stunning achievement ensured the strains of Majulah Singapura were heard for the first time at the Paralympics or Olympic Games.
In a phone interview on Monday night, the Secondary 4 student at Bendemeer Secondary School said: "I didn't think of anything during my race, because I swim better when my mind is a blank.
"Even Uncle Siong (coach Ang) knows this and didn't really give me too many instructions. He let me swim my race.
"I just went out there and swam."
Pin Xiu's feat comes a month to the day after the Singapore women's table tennis team bagged the country's first Olympic medal in 48 years, when they beat South Korea in the semi-finals in Beijing.
And on Monday - Sept 15 - Singapore won its first-ever Paralympic Games gold medal.
It is her second medal of the 13th Paralympic Games, following her silver in the 50m freestyle (S3) on Saturday.
The teenager was grateful for all the help from the Singapore Disability Sports Council and the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC), and reserved special praise for coach Ang, team-mate Theresa Goh, and her parents, dad Yip Chee Khiong and mum Margaret Chong.
Pin Xiu and Goh had taken Sunday afternoon off to go to Beijing's Silk Street with coach Ang to get her mind off swimming.
"A lot of athletes tend to do better when they're relaxed, that was why we took them out to get their minds off swimming for a while," said Ang, 45, a two-time Olympian.
"The entire Team Singapore delegation, including the doctors, physiotherapists and sports psychologists, all did a good job in keeping the mood light-hearted.
"Pin Xiu tends to do better in a relaxed environment."
Pin Xiu's parents didn't talk to their daughter before the race for fear of piling the pressure on her.
"We saw her a few days ago and she said she wanted a gold medal," said Margaret, a senior officer at Singapore Airlines.
"But we didn't say anything more because we didn't want to put undue pressure on her. We're so happy that she has fulfilled her dream."
While the Games end on Wednesday, Singapore's six athletes have completed all their events and will return home on Thursday with one gold, one silver and two bronze medals, through equestrian dressage rider Laurentia Tan.
Under the SNPC's Athlete Achievement Awards scheme, Pin Xiu will receive $100,000 for her gold medal, while Tan, 29, will win $25,000.