When Ashly Lau set out for Qatar a week ago to compete at the Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup, she was merely in the hunt for competition experience on the big stage.
But the 16-year-old rookie, who only made the leap from junior to senior level at the beginning of the year, achieved the highest ever score by a Singaporean gymnast in international competition.
She catapulted herself into the final of the balance beam event with a score of 14.150 points, qualifying third behind two Olympic bronze medallists (team) from gymnastics giants Romania.
The enormity of the occasion eventually got to the Secondary 4 Raffles Girls' School student, who posted 12.825 in the final to finish seventh early on Saturday.
Romanian Larisa Andreea Iordache was first (14.850) while Australian Mary-Anne Monckton finished runner-up (14.700). Vietnam's world championship vault bronze medallist Phan Thi Ha Thanh was third (13.875).
Ashly's high score in the qualification round would have placed her sixth - and the top Asian - at last year's world championships.
"I was definitely very nervous," she told The Sunday Times shortly after her event on Satuday in a telephone interview from Doha.
"There was pressure because people were expecting me to do as well as I did in the qualification round. I tried to just focus on doing my routine properly."
Despite disappointment from a fall during her routine that dashed hopes of a historic medal, her effort is likely sufficient to meet the Singapore National Olympic Council's criteria for selection to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow from July 23-Aug 3.
The gymnast, whose previous best in her pet event was a 13.1, will also be returning home with some valuable experience after competing alongside the world's best at the senior level for the first time.
The World Challenge Cup, a series sanctioned by the International Gymnastics Federation, traditionally attracts the world's top athletes, including world and Olympic stars.
Said Ashly: "This is my first time in this kind of high-level competition. After knowing that I am capable of getting a score like this, I feel more motivated to improve and do even better in future. I'm going to work on my consistency during routines."
Ashly's ability to handle the magnitude of the competition impressed even 2012 Olympian Lim Heem Wei.
Said the veteran gymnast, a 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist on the balance beam: "For a first-timer, she really handled her nerves very well. There are days when even I won't be able to take it as well as she did. I have to give it to her."
Said Singapore Gymnastics vice-president Lee Hong Chuang: "Our gymnasts have made great improvement and it's very heartening to see their hard work validated.
"Hopefully, this will help them be selected as a team for the coming Commonwealth Games."
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