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Aisyah takes significant step in Paris Olympics dream

Saiyidah Aisyah received a major boost on her comeback trail when she emerged as the fastest local female rower in the recent national selection trials.

The 35-year-old will now head to the April 19-21 Asian and Oceania Olympic Qualification Regatta in Chungju, South Korea, where she must finish among the top five to earn her ticket to Paris 2024.

Aisyah had made history as the Republic’s first Olympic rower at Rio 2016, but took an indefinite break from competition in end-2017 before deciding to gun for her second Games appearance two months ago.

At the trials, she faced stiff competition from five rowers, including Joan Poh, who competed at the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Recounting the time trials at Pandan Reservoir on Feb 26, Aisyah said: “It didn’t really get to me until I was on the water. I was feeling very nervous. So much so that my heart rate was too high.

“And during the warmup, I had to take some time to just stop rowing and do some breathing. I was tensing up. At the start line, I was just telling myself, ‘I’m already here, so just go and do it and give it your best’.”

Having been away from the national scene since 2017, Aisyah admitted that she was unaware of what to expect and there was an “anti-climactic” end when national coach Goken Sakamoto announced the results.

She said: “There was definitely some doubts because I had no idea what Joan’s timing was coming into these trials... I was just focusing on my goal. Joan and I went out at separate times, so I had no idea what the timings could be.

“After the second time trials, coach Goken announced the timings and said I will represent Singapore at the Olympic selection.

“It was very strange, because usually I get very emotional about these things. But I was just so tired. By the end of the second trial, I just wanted to get home.”

ST understands that Aisyah was at least five seconds quicker than second-placed Poh in each of the two 1,500m time trials.

If the gap between them had been less than five seconds, additional races would have been required to select the top rower.

The first part of the national trials were on Feb 24, with a 2,000m stationary ergometer rowing test. A Singapore Rowing spokesman confirmed that Aisyah was the fastest in both categories.

While Singapore Rowing declined to reveal the timings, the spokesman said it is “delighted” that Aisyah has “made her first successful step” in the road to qualifying for Paris 2024.

Other rowers, including Poh, will represent Singapore at the Asia Cup in South Korea, which will be at the same time as the Olympic qualifiers.

Singapore Rowing president Paul Supramaniam said it will work closely with the authorities to support Aisyah’s bid for another Olympics, adding that it is also looking forward to working with her to uplift the sport.

Aisyah will be heading back to Sydney to continue her training ahead of April’s trials, which will coincide with her 36th birthday on April 20.

She said: “It’s so crazy how when you really focus on something and put aside your time, energy and you invest all your resources in one thing, you can make things happen.”

In 2016, it was at the Tangeum Lake in Chungju, where she had earned a historic Olympic spot by winning the B final of the 2,000m women’s single sculls.

Eight years later, Aisyah will be back at the same venue again, hoping to create another moment to remember.