Unlike so many other athletes who are armed with a detailed training programme and focused on being at their peak by the time the Rio Olympics rolls around in August, Singapore marathoner Neo Jie Shi has not even finalised her training plan for the final few months.
The 30-year-old human resource and administration assistant manager only received word last week that she had qualified for the Olympics.
As she prepares her final plan, she knows she will not be alone as Singapore Athletics (SA) and Pocari Sweat will be supporting Neo's Olympic campaign.
At a press conference to announce the partnership with Pocari Sweat yesterday, Neo said: "Proper hydration is a crucial component of both training and marathon days, hence I am very grateful to have found support from Pocari Sweat.
"With their support I can focus on training wholeheartedly."
The sports drink brand will link the Singaporean up with Japanese marathoners who train with the track and field team of Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Pocari Sweat's parent company.
Pocari Sweat Singapore country manager Puspita Winawati said: "Besides our product, we will also tap on our global network to support Jie Shi for overseas marathons. Firstly, we will invite her for the upcoming (Pocari-supported) Seoul Marathon on March 20."
Neo, who ran in the half-marathon event in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon last Sunday, secured her Olympic berth after she won the women's local category at last month's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore with a time of 3hr 15min and 06sec.
The Singapore race is officially rated an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Gold Label Marathon - the highest - and while Neo's time was more than 30 minutes off the 2016 Rio Olympics' entry standard of 2:45:00, she finished 10th in the women's Open category.
The IAAF qualification and entry standards state that: "... the top 10 finishers at the IAAF Gold Label Marathons in 2015 and 2016 (held during the qualification period of Jan 1, 2015 to July 11, 2016) will also be considered as having achieved the entry standard."
Neo is the first Singaporean woman since Yvonne Danson (Atlanta 1996) to qualify for the Olympics in the marathon event.
Neo is working with SA vice-president (training and selection) C Kunalan on her training plan, which will involve assigning her a suitable coach, sports science support and possibly stints in the Singapore Sports Institute's Altitude House, which simulates high altitude environments to help athletes boost their blood's oxygen-carrying capability.
Both Neo and Kunalan are realistic about the runner's Olympic outing.
"I just hope to do my best... I am not hoping to shave 20 minutes off my personal best; I have been running for many years and I just try to improve every year," said Neo, whose personal best is just under 3hr 10min, set last year.
"Even though I have this opportunity to compete with the world's best (at the Olympics), I still see myself as a regular runner who is just very passionate about running.
"I hope my running journey will be an inspiration to many up and coming long distance runners in Singapore."
This article was first published on January 20, 2016.
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