From Olympics to the unknown: Rower Sayidah Aisyah to 'take a break' from sport
Singapore's first Olympic rower Aisyah 'taking a break' to reassess her goals
She is the first Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympics and her road to Rio 2016 touched many hearts.
From winning a gold medal at the 2013 SEA Games to her crowd-funding effort to raise money for her training and then booking the last possible ticket to realise her Olympic dream before reaching the quarter-finals of the women's singles sculls event, Sayidah Aisyah's story has been an inspiring one.
She had earlier said that she is eyeing a medal at next year's Asian Games in Jakarta, but that target is put on hold after the 29-year-old decided to "take a break" from the sport.
It is a decision reinforced by the fact that she will now no longer receive national funding as a Sports Excellence scholar.
The Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship), which includes sports science and medicine support, as well as stipends, helps recipients excel at the Asian, world and Olympic levels.
A department of national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG), the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) also disburses scholarship funds.
SportSG confirmed that the rower had surrendered her scholarship in June.
"I'm just taking a break from the sport. I'm not ready to retire yet and I believe that I still have a lot more to give," Aisyah told The New Paper.
"I just hope that people will understand that athletes are humans, too. I haven't had a proper break for four years now.
"I still want to row competitively at the highest level but, at the same time, I must think of what will happen after my rowing career, and I also want to develop rowing in Singapore.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to learn as much as I can, while I can."
While Aisyah did not reveal what her future plans are, she said that the requirements of the spexScholarship is not what she wants right now.
"Being under the scholarship would allow me to (compete at the highest level), but my focus would be different. When I was under the scholarship, everything was about performance, results, targets and key performance indicators.
"The scholarship has helped me a lot in my performance leading up to Rio, but I realised that the scholarship goals and my goals must be aligned.
"Otherwise, I'm just wasting my time and resources."
While Aisyah insists that the Asian Games still remain on her radar, the road to Jakarta may well prove as tough as the one she endured to get to Rio.
"When she came back to Singapore, she informed us via email that she is taking a break, but she did not clarify how long this break was going to be. We cannot assume that she is going to come back," Singapore Rowing Association (SRA) president Nicholas Ee told TNP.
"The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) requires athletes to be ready for random dope testing but, when I checked with Anti Doping Singapore (ADS), I was informed that she had already been taken off the list," he added, hinting that a return to the top level of the sport could be fraught with more red tape.
Athletes who are nominated by their national sports associations (NSAs) are required to provide accurate and updated whereabouts information to ensure that they can be tested with no advance notice.
The ADS website states that athletes must continue to file whereabouts information until they have been officially informed by ADS that they have been removed from the system, or if they retire.
But SportSG confirmed that Aisyah currently remains a carded national athlete.
Carding ensures that athletes qualify to receive training grants, sports medicine and science support as well as funds to replace loss of wages while they train.
An athlete will have to be nominated by their NSAs to be carded. The NSAs can also write in to remove athletes at any time, and this could prove a problem when Sayidah returns to the sport.
The relationship between SRA and Aisyah appears to have been strained.
"She did not sign the SRA's athlete agreement, and she did not even furnish training reports when she was overseas (in the lead-up to the Olympics), so we don't know anything about her," said Ee.
"Everything happened between her, her coach and the SSI. We didn't get the reports that we asked for, and we have a right to."
Since her withdrawal from the spexScholarship in June, Aisyah asserts that she has continued cross training, including participating in her first triathlon.
Asked when she would call time on her sabbatical from the sport, she said: "As soon as possible!"