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No hurdle too high

Dipna Lim-Prasad is one of 23 athletes representing Singapore at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. -tabla!
Jamuna Sundaraj

Fri, Jul 20, 2012

When she was just a pre-teen in primary school, all Dipna Lim-Prasad (left) wanted to do was run.

But she didn't know what event she was good at or best suited for.

She ended up running the 800m in a school event.

She did not make any major waves then, but she did display enough raw talent to be picked for the Singapore Sports School (SSS) in 2004.

The skill, the determination was there.

But the confusion about events remained.

And, in her first year at SSS, she experimented with different events even as her coaches tried to find her perfect fit on the track.

"I had no individual events the first year," said Dipna, adding, with a laugh: "I was so terrible."

She was then introduced to the 200m but it was not until five years ago that she switched to hurdles on the advice of her current coach. That was the turning point in her career.

Not only did she start dominating the event, she even broke the national 100m hurdles record thrice in the same year: In January last year, she stopped the clock at 14.69 during the heats at the Singapore Athletic Association Track and Field Series 1 meet and then lowered it to 14.56 in the final; four months later, she bettered that with a 14.23 run at the Taiwan Open.

This year, Dipna will be adding another feather to her cap.

The 1.74m tall hurdler is one of 23 athletes from nine sports representing Singapore at the London Olympic Games.

Accompanying her are compatriots Gary Yeo (athletics); Derek Wong, Gu Juan, Shinta Mulia Sari, Yao Lei (badminton); Geraldine Lee (canoeing); Lim Heem Wei (gymnastics); Colin Cheng, Elizabeth Yin (sailing); Jasmine Ser (shooting); Tao Li, Joseph Isaac Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen, Mylene Ong, Lynette Lim (swimming); Gao Ning, Yang Zi, Zhan Jian, Feng Tianwei, Wang Yue Gu, Li Jiawei (table tennis); and Helena Wong (weightlifting).

Despite the fact that her golden ticket was a wildcard entry from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Dipna told tabla! in an interview at SSS that it was still an honour: "I have come a long way, and I thank the Sports School and the coaches for building me up to this. Going to the Olympics is a very big dream for many students and I'm very happy I get to go."

The 21-year-old Dipna, whose father is Indian and mother Chinese, will compete in the 100m hurdles in London, becoming the first woman to represent Singapore in an Olympic track event since Chee Swee Lee's appearance in the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

And despite having participated in many international and regional events, she still says that nothing can compare with the Olympics.

"It's the mecca of everything," said Dipna, who is currently pursuing a degree in sports science and management at Nanyang Technological University.

"Even though the exposure of international races sort of prepare me, it will never be the same at the Olympics. I don't think I can prepare myself for it no matter how many Olympians I talk to."

And one of the former Olympians she has been turning to for advice, ever since she received news that she was London bound, is her boyfriend Poh Seng Song.

They have been a couple for four years and Poh, who competed in the men's 100m at the Athens Olympics in 2004, has some simple tips for her: Do not get intimidated and focus on your own race.

"He just told me to not think and just run," said Dipna, with a laugh.

That said, she has set the bar for herself: She wants to clock a sub-14 second time in London.

Having a Chinese boyfriend and a part-Chinese background has not diluted Dipna's connection to her paternal Indian roots.

"I love watching Bollywood films like 3 Idiots and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham," she said as she twirled her jade pendant, a Chinese New Year gift from her mother some years ago.

She added: "Then there's the food. I love naans and jalebis. My sister cooks more Indian food than I do and I have helped her make chappatis and butter chicken before."

Speaking of her mixed heritage, she pointed out: "It's sort of the best of both worlds. I get to experience different traditions."

The close family ties have resulted in Dipna getting a lot of support at home.

She confided that her family members were elated when they learnt she would be going to the Olympics.

"There was a family meeting. My mum ordered the rest to take out their planners to see who can come and watch me run," said Dipna, who added that her older brother will be in London to support her.

"I never had a family member fly down to see me run before. It's quite exciting," she said, with a smile.

That smile evaporates and Dipna turns all serious when asked about the possibility of a medal in London. "We'll have to wait and see. I have been training hard and I hope I perform on that day," she said.

While she may be all professional and committed to her sport, Dipna showed signs of a starry-eyed teenager as she revealed that she is looking forward to meeting some of her heroes in the flesh.

Her list is long but she mentions American sprinter Allyson Felix, American swimmer Michael Phelps and Swiss tennis player Roger Federer as those she'd love to meet.

She hopes to get an autograph from Federer for her brother.

But there is one star she just has to meet.

"Usain Bolt! He was so nice the last time I met him," she gushed, looking almost like a schoolgirl with a crush. "He wasn't like other stars and he takes an interest in you. He's so cheeky and so charming."

And what was boyfriend Poh's reaction to this?

"He just said okay," said Dipna, with a laugh.

Well, Bolt or no Bolt, it seems Poh is not too worried about anyone taking his place as the front-runner for her heart.

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