Pain, pressure, and a perfectionist streak

Dinah Chan

She was all smiles, and why not?

This was the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, and Dinah Chan had just finished fourth in the women's individual time trial (ITT in 39 minutes 54.17 seconds), beating her nearest South-east Asian challenger, Thailand's Chanpeng Nontasin, by some six seconds.

But the first thing she expressed to Singapore media then was not joy at beating her closest rival in the region, nor was it satisfaction of finishing well beyond her ninth-spot prediction.

It was pain.

The affable former teacher was still smiling, as she admitted being in "so much pain" from "smashing the gears" to see just where she stood in the Asian order.

Chan has a rather unusual physiological problem - a burning sensation in her thighs that requires her three hours to fully warm up.

Some eight months on, as the South-east Asia (SEA) Games (June 5-16) loom, the pain is still there.

Throw on the pressure of being the defending Games champion in the ITT at a race to be played out on home ground - with Nontasin still lurking - and the task ahead of Chan becomes clearer, but only a little.

The Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) is fielding an eight-member peloton (six men, two women), and the team have been given a modest target of one gold medal - with the burden of delivery resting largely on the 29-year-old.

Still, the smile remained plastered on her face.

"I do give myself pressure: this is home ground, I'm the defending champion, and what if I don't win - it'll be so paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassing)," she chuckled.

"At the Asian Games, I was still warming up on the first lap, and this time if I don't get my legs to warm up properly...", she trailed off mid-sentence, the first time the smile disappeared from her face yesterday, when the cyclists met the media.

But the grin quickly returned.


"But I'm not so stressed about the pain, my coaches have more or less found a solution for it - but it's a secret!" she added.

Chan has shown that pain is not that big a factor for her.

A mere three months before she struck gold in Myanmar in 2013, she suffered a mild concussion and fractured teeth in a road accident.

That did not stop her winning the Republic's first cycling gold in 16 years.

This time it is different, but she is thankful for having teammates to train with - in a what can be a "lonely" sport - even national athletes from other sports she met while at the Incheon Games.

"I spoke with Shayna Ng (2012 World Cup winning bowler and 2014 Singapore Sportswoman of the Year) and she agreed that winning is fun only the first time, and from the second time onwards - you're supposed to win," Chan said, pleased at having found a kindred spirit who understood what it means to be a champion.

"When I won in 2013, the accident took the pressure off me, because no one expected anything, and the gold was a bonus.

"This time there are more events and interviews. But I'm an athlete - my main job is to train, rest and get that gold."

"Some people may like interviews and all, but I don't. I want to rest every minute that I'm not training," she added, the perfectionist streak just peeking over the smile.

A Sports Excellence (Spex) Scholar, Chan has trained full-time since 2013 but, even that and all the support that it comes with, is just not good enough for her.

She said: "To me, there is no perfect preparation.

"All preparation is not good enough. It's only a question of how quickly you get over your obstacles."

And we already know just how well - and quick - Chan can get over hers.

The talk is all about leaving a legacy, but how do you leave a legacy? By first getting that gold. - Dinah Chan (left)

This article was first published on May 26, 2015.
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