Aisyah rows into quarters
Singapore rower's Olympic journey on track despite tough conditions
Her brows were furrowed, teeth clenched, and her chin tucked close to the chest - all clear signs that her body was on the verge of keeling over in agony.
If there were any who doubted Saiyidah Aisyah's frequent declarations that pain is the only company a rower keeps, they would have been quashed yesterday at Rio de Janeiro's Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon - every rower wore a variation of that look at the finish-line.
But Aisyah's grimace could not hide the upturned lips of a smile - and it was a well-deserved smile.
The 28-year-old clocked eight minutes 44.71 seconds to finish third in heat four of the women's single sculls, behind China's Duan Jingli (8:18.57) and Switzerland's Jeanine Gmelin (8:28.10). This means automatic entry into Tuesday's quarter-finals.
Aisyah qualified for the Olympics at the last possible race - as the seventh and last Asian to do so, by winning the B final of April's Asia and Oceania Continental Olympic Qualification Regatta in Chung Ju, South Korea.
But she ended day one of Olympic competition as one of only two Asians - alongside Duan - in the top 18.
Along with her coach Alan Bennett, Aisyah had set a "modest target" of finishing 19th to 24th out of 32 female single scullers, and she is well on track to achieve that.
"The conditions were tough, the waters were choppy. (Before the race) I told myself to relax, to not feel so pressured, and have a little bit of fun," she said, after the 2,000-metre race.
But it was not so fun out on the water, even for some of the world's top rowers.
Canada's Carling Zeeman, won heat three in 8:41.12, some 20 seconds ahead of Ireland's Sanita Puspure, but even the 2016 Rowing World Cup gold medallist struggled to keep her vessel going in a straight line.
"(Aisyah's) performance was calm and controlled in very challenging conditions.
"This allowed her to enjoy the occasion and stay relaxed, which is exactly what was needed in that water," said Bennett.
"As (rowing) is an outdoor sport, you have to be flexible and adapt to the conditions on the day. Today's result was proof of good preparation."
Aisyah, the 2013 South-east Asia Games champion, ran down her life savings to pursue the Olympic dream, even turning to crowd-funding to fuel her training expenses that were racked up by a move to Sydney to train full-time from last year.
And she was delighted to see her sacrifices start to pay off - at the pinnacle of sport, no less.
"I'm happy to make it through to the quarter-finals," she said.
The women's single sculls competition continues with the repechage today, but Aisyah will next see action on National Day, when she will resume the pursuit of her Olympic dream.
Bennett is looking to see more of the same from her.
"She is on track to achieve her target. The process is to tackle each race, and make it the best (race) possible."