EVERYTHING about Timothee Yap screams speed.
From his jumpy, can’t-sit-still demeanour to his love of the drums because “it’s hyper and fast just like me” to his flashy orange shoes – with matching socks – which seem primed to race off his feet at any moment.
No surprise then that the 16-year-old Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) student is a sprinter, and a good one at that.
He is the holder of the national Under-17 400m hurdles record of 54.08sec set at the Asean School Games in Singapore last month.
It’s a timing which means he will be donning national colours for his first open competition in November at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Palembang, Indonesia.
Explaining his affinity for acceleration, Timothee said: “Since I was young, I have always loved speed. I love speed, I love winning and I was a pretty fast kid, so there was no other choice (except sprints) for me.
“Even when I play computer games, I always choose the fastest character.
“I did cross country for six months when I was in Secondary 1, but it was very tiring. I prefer shorter distances – it’s faster, there’s more adrenalin and it’s a lot less tiring.
“When I run, I feel I can let everything go at once – you expend all your energy at one go. I like that feeling – you can’t do that when you play basketball or run a cross-country race.
“Plus everyone knows Usain Bolt, but who knows the cross-country world champion?”
While Timothee might have a love affair with winning, he has not raced away to the podium for most of his sporting career.
He told The New Paper that his first win came only last year in the Schools National Championships in the 400m hurdles.
He credits his on-track mentor, former Catholic High track and field coach Teo Suan Long, for helping him attain that breakthrough.
Said the 58-year-old: “At first, he was playful and he wasn’t serious. It was only when he reached Secondary 4 that he started focusing.
“The year before, he had a chance to get a medal in a 400m hurdles race, but somehow he didn’t have the correct frame of mind. So after that disaster, I told him that he had to break the record the next year.
“But he wasn’t convinced. He only started realising it the next year (that he could really do it) and then went on to break the B Division record in the event.”
The 16-year-old claims that Teo’s strict approach at training and his demand for absolute focus has stuck with him.
It’s something that his HCI track and field teammates testify to.
Said Lee Hong Yi, 17: “He’s very focused and motivated.
“When training is really tough, sometimes the rest of us will slack off a little, but he never does. I don’t think he’s ever missed a training session.”
While Teo might have honed his athletic talents and instilled in him the belief and ethic of a champion, his love for running was inculcated in him closer to home.
From the age of nine, Timothee used to tag along when his dad Michael Yap embarked on his daily jogs.
The 16-year-old claimed that for many years he would lag behind his senior civil servant father during those runs.
However, the ever-competitive Timothee proudly proclaimed that now the roles have reversed, and it’s the 50 year-old who trails in his jet-heeled wake.
He does concede that his dad is “more buff than me”. An impressive achievement considering the HCI’s lean and toned frame.
But Timothee is not your archetypal one-dimensional sportsman.
Especially for someone who trains five times a week for three hours each session, his academic achievements are as impressive as his leap when he clears hurdles on the track.
Explaining his approach to balancing sports and studies, Timothee said: “You just have to focus, if you can train five days a week for three hours a day, you should be able to spend the same amount of time studying.”
His ‘O’ level result of six points was enough for him to take his pick of junior colleges in Singapore.
In fact, his parents were pushing him towards Raffles Institution Junior College (RIJC) because they felt it had better facilities and coaches.
But, for Timothee, it was never really an option.
“Here in Hwa Chong, I have great teammates. Everyday at training, there’s such good competition.
“Training with them is like competing at nationals every day. I know RIJC has the brand name but, for me, Hwa Chong is a better fit.”
And it’s not just the HCI track and field fraternity which have cherished that decision.
So have the food sellers at the school.
Said Timothee: “I really like eating. When I go to buffets, the waiters and waitresses sometimes give me funny looks when I fill up my plate.
“On a good day, I can eat eight bowls of rice... on a normal day, it’s usually about four. I tend to spend a lot of my money in the school canteen, so the canteen aunties love me.”
With his appetite for food matching his obsession with winning, there will be little surprise if Timothee attains his target of a podium finish at the SEA Games.