Paralympics: One down, one more to go for Yip Pin Xiu

Singapore's Yip Pin Xiu celebrates winning the gold medal in the 100m backstroke S2 event at the Rio Paralympics. Because she has muscular dystrophy, her coach Mick Massey, beside her, has to lower her into the pool and hold her hands as she can no longer hold the rail before the start of a race.
PHOTO: Reuters

When Singapore para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu woke up at 8am on Saturday (Brazil time), she asked herself: "Did I really win gold?" The next second, she answered her own question with a resounding yes.

And almost as quickly, she "pulled (herself) back to the ground," she told The Straits Times in Rio.

Her gold in the 100m backstroke S2 event on Friday evening (Saturday morning, Singapore time) is Singapore's first medal at the Rio Paralympics. She broke two world records with that win.

Celebrations can wait, for she has to keep her focus on the 50m backstroke S2 event on Thursday evening (Friday morning, Singapore time). Her parents are expected to be there to cheer her on as she seeks to break new ground by becoming the first Singaporean to win more than one gold medal at a single Paralympics.

The 24-year-old said matter-of-factly: "One goal down, on to the next."

About an hour after the victory ceremony at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, she checked her mobile phone and was overwhelmed with congratulatory messages from family and friends.

She said: "I was surprised many of them woke up to watch the race in Singapore so early in the morning." The race was telecast live at about 4.50am back home.

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Posted by Team Singapore on Sunday, September 11, 2016

The morning after the win, she spent close to two hours at the training pool - 11/2 hours for a recovery swim and a 25-minute stretch.

After lunch, she spent time talking to her support team - which includes a dietitian - then had her physiotherapy and eventually watched some of the Paralympic action on television.

It was, in her own words, "a chill day" at the Athletes' Village.

Yet at 8pm, she told this reporter that she was "very tired now" and reckoned the previous night's race may have sapped her energy.

Yip, who has muscular dystrophy, can no longer hold the rail with her hands before the start of a race.

Her coach Mick Massey has to hold her hands instead.

But she points out that she is still very independent, improvising ways to perform her tasks. For example, she replies to text messages using her thumb and knuckles, instead of her fingers. She also opens a bottle cap using both palms.

She has observed "great progress" in the reach of para-sports since she started swimming competitively in 2004, and knows full well the significance of her achievement, noting: "Wins like this can be a big step forward."

Her victory has garnered more than 10,000 likes, loves and wows on The Straits Times' Facebook page.

When told about this, she agreed that advances in smartphone technology had spread the news of her win faster and farther.

She has been congratulated by no less than President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also the president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, Olympic champion and fellow swimmer Joseph Schooling, amid a groundswell of support from the public.

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu announced on Facebook that there are plans to celebrate the achievements of Singapore's Paralympians, while Singapore Airlines also revealed on social media that it has "celebratory activities planned for her return trip". The national carrier had also rolled out the red carpet for Schooling's return from Rio.

But while Yip was grateful for the attention and support her gold medal has sparked, she remains keenly aware that the road ahead is long.

She said: "It is nice to know that people care about the Paralympics as much as they do about the Olympics.

"It is our role as athletes to move our sport forward by performing well."


This article was first published on Sep 12, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.