SINGAPORE – Para-archer Nur Syahidah Alim spends hours aiming at a target, but at the Aug 24-Sept 5 Paralympics, it is the Singaporean who will have a target on her back.
She is currently the No. 2 in the compound women’s open individual world rankings with 190.4 points, but for most of the past two years, she held the top spot, a position she first achieved in October 2019.
“Initially, I felt a bit of pressure holding the world No. 1 rank for my category. But along the way, with the help of my coach and a sports scientist, we managed my expectations and that made me feel a lot more motivated to do better in Tokyo,” said Syahidah, who has cerebral palsy.
Her coach Pang Qing Liang has been reminding her to focus on what she can control and think of what she needs to do on competition days instead of being concerned about her ranking.
He said: “From a nobody to becoming the top in the ranking system, there are expectations from other people. Not so much from herself because she’s happy with what she has achieved.
“At some point, there were people asking her how she wanted to retain the world No. 1 ranking etc, and as her coach, it was important for me to keep her on the right track.
“We worked on every single step in terms of technique to work on and eventually in competition, it’s like taking an exam, you won’t know what the competition score is going to be but you just want to do your best whenever you can.”
The top spot is now held by Jessica Stretton, the reigning Paralympic champion in the compound W1 category (impairment in all four limbs, uses a wheelchair). The Briton overtook Syahidah after competing in the Para-Archery World Ranking tournament and Final Paralympic Qualification event in the Czech Republic last month.
Syahidah, 36, made her Paralympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, where she reached the quarter-finals. A year earlier, she had her first Asean Para Games outing on home soil, winning two gold medals in the individual compound and mixed team.
She retained her women’s individual compound title at the 2017 APG in Kuala Lumpur and finished fifth at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
She then had a stellar 2019, pipping Stretton to the gold in her maiden outing at the World Archery Para Championships, earning Singapore its first medal at the event and a berth at this year’s Paralympics.
Four months later, she reached the summit of the world rankings and she continued her fine form by winning gold at the 2019 Asian Para Archery Championships in Bangkok.
But Covid-19 halted her momentum, affecting the intensity and type of training she undergoes, with Syahidah having to train indoors more often. The pandemic has also caused a lot of uncertainty over the last one and a half years, but she has found ways to keep herself calm such as by reading or baking on her days off.
It was also difficult for her to travel for competitions so Pang organised simulation training to allow her to apply what she learnt in training when she feels nervous.
Pang, 30, said: “It’s hard to replicate (the competition environment) in Singapore – what we’re working on won’t be the same as what she experiences overseas, but it’s to increase the anxiety and nervousness so she can get used to the feeling and do what she needs to do.”
To help Syahidah adapt and cope with those nerves, Pang arranges for “surprises” such as someone from Sport Singapore or a sports scientist dropping in during training.
He explained: “She must be able to handle things when a random person shows up for training, so she must be able to shoot as per normal.”
The pair also set different types of goals at the start of every year, such as aiming for the athlete to be on the podium in all competitions or working on specific skills or techniques.
In Tokyo, Syahidah hopes to improve on her performance in Rio.
She said: “It’s really intense but the most important thing right now in our training is focusing on my fundamentals to improve my shooting performance as well as conditioning my body to give me more strength and endurance.
“We’ve been working really hard and I’m really excited that it’s happening.”
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