Mon, Sep 22, 2008
Paralympian wonder girls

By Chia Han Keong

THEY were thousands of kilometres apart for much of the Paralympics, which ended last Wednesday.

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu competed at Beijing's Water Cube complex, while equestrian rider Laurentia Tan was in Hong Kong, where her event was based.

However, when the two Singapore medallists finally met up, when Tan travelled to Beijing to attend Wednesday's closing ceremony, they had the same sentiments – immense respect for each other's feats.

Said Pin Xiu, 16, who suffers from muscular dystrophy: "The fact that Laurentia did competitive riding for only a
short period before the Games, and still won two medals, it's just amazing."

Tan won Singapore's first two Paralympic medals when she clinched bronzes in both the individual test and the individual freestyle test (Grade 1a) events.

The 29-year-old, born with cerebral palsy and profound deafness, is also full of praise for Pin Xiu, who clinched a gold (50m backstroke) and a silver (50m freestyle) at the Water Cube pools.

She said: "Both of us have worked hard to overcome our disabilities, and I can fully respect what she has accomplished in the swimming pool."

The duo returned to Singapore with the Paralympic team last Thursday night to a rousing reception at Changi Airport.

Tired, and unaccustomed to the incessant camera flashes, they nevertheless posed patiently for the media as well as for their relatives and well-wishers.

"Overwhelmed," said Tan, when asked how she felt about the reception. Pin Xiu recounted that she reached home from the airport only at 2am, slept at 3am – and had to wake up at 6am to attend a live morning TV interview.

"It was tiring," she admitted. "But I was happy to do it."

Indeed, their itinerary was packed throughout the weekend. The climax was when they were conferred state medals for their feats by President S R Nathan at the Istana last Saturday.

Pin Xiu was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, while Tan received the Public Service Medal.

Amid all these celebrations of their successes, there was an ongoing debate on whether their Paralympic monetary rewards should be on par with those of Olympic medallists.

Under the Athletics Achievement Award scheme, Pin Xiu receives $100,000 for her gold, while Tan gets $25,000 her bronze. The scheme rewards only their highest achievements.

The Singapore women's table-tennis team, on the other hand, received $750,000 from the Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme for their Olympic silver feat last month.

However, Pin Xiu said: "It's less, but it's a good start for us. I'm sure that we'll get better sponsorship in the future."

She will hit her school textbooks from today – to prepare for her O-level examinations, which begin next month.

Tan, on the other hand, will return today to England where she is based, and embark on a full-time riding career.

She hopes to get more cerebral-palsy patients to pick up the sport, saying: "I want to use myself as an example to
show them that it is possible for them to enjoy riding a horse."


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