A late bloomer finds belief

Dipna Lim-Prasad won the bronze medal in the women's 400m hurdles final at the SEA Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar last December. Dipna set a new national record of 59.96sec.

SINGAPORE - Dipna Lim-Prasad is rattling off a list and it goes something like this: 2009 SEA Games, 2011 SEA Games, 2012 Olympic Games.

It is not a list of achievements. It is her personal record of failures, for they are what this athlete remembers more.

The list represent the heartache of not making the athletics squad for the 2009 Laos SEA Games and the setback of missing out on the 100m hurdles final in Indonesia two years later.

It also marks the disappointment of under-performing - despite clocking a season's best - in the biggest run of her career in London.

This list occupies the 23-year-old's mind and it is ironic, because a list of records she broke last year should be what she carries around.

She smashed Prema Govindan's 29-year-old national record in the 200m sprint, although that mark has since been eclipsed by Shanti Pereira.

She teamed up with the 4x400m relay squad to lower the national Under-23 mark twice, and rewrote the national 400m hurdles record three times.

That last feat earned her a bronze at the Myanmar SEA Games, the first time since Toh So Liang in 1993 that a Singapore woman had claimed a track medal at the biennial Games.

But underneath her impressive resume, this Straits Times Athlete of the Year nominee is often the last to believe in herself.

Said the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) undergraduate: "I don't have the self-confidence that I should have.

"A lot of times, I doubt myself."

Perhaps it has something to do with how she bounced around several training groups in her first year at the Singapore Sports School's athletics academy, struggling to find an area she could excel in.

Or maybe it stems from how her first encounter with the hurdles - she also holds the national record for the 100m hurdles - ended in tears and tumbles.

"I'm a very late bloomer," she said.

"I've always felt that I have to train more to achieve the same things as other people. I guess I don't believe I'm very talented."

The first person to rubbish that claim would be her coach of the past seven years, Viatcheslav Vassiliev, who even went as far as tip his charge as a potential Olympic finalist.

He said: "She did not believe me in the past when I told her she can go to the SEA Games and win a medal. Her mentality has changed since then, and everything is possible, as long as she doesn't give up.

"Dipna may not be the most talented, but she more than makes up for it in hard work."

Said Lim-Prasad: "I believe that hard work will get you to a certain place. That's how I got to where I am today - literally through hard work and training."

It is why she hits the track while others are busy with festivities, and the same reason why she insists on shuffling between lessons and school presentations in Jurong West and training at the SSP campus in Woodlands to squeeze in an hour or two more of training.

She said: "You can train really hard and give your all but still fall behind your competition, because everyone works their butt off.

"It's definitely easier to have faith in myself now, and I am happy with how I've progressed, but in sport you can't be content.

"Your expectations of yourself go up a notch.

"What I've achieved so far is great, but I need to look forward to something else and aim for something higher."

So for all the reminders of things she could have done better, Lim-Prasad also has another list tucked away in her mind.

One that she thinks of often and it reads like this: A sub-59sec run in the 400m hurdles. Gold on home soil at the 2015 SEA Games. Another shot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A list of timings yet to be reached, and targets yet to be achieved.

maychen@sph.com.sg


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