A quest for perfection
Tong Kah Mun says she's not the smallest gymnast around, even as she slips on a pair of white half-shoes on her size four feet.
Standing at 1.59 metres and weighing just 43kg, those who don't know her will not believe she is a 16-year-old student at Nanyang Junior College.
With a laugh, she said: "Many of my (gymnast) juniors are actually smaller than me. Some are taller, but they weigh less than 43kg."
In April, Kah Mun swept all four individual categories - hoop, ball, clubs, and ribbons - at the Schools' National Rhythmic Gymnastics championships to finish as the top individual overall.
Last month, she represented Singapore at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
Size doesn't matter much in rhythmic gymnastics, and according to the teenager, extreme physical and mental strength, determination and perseverance are the vital attributes required to do well in the sport.
"Gymnastics is about perfection. Being perfect is not a choice," explained the Year One student, who picked up the sport at the age of eight.
"Sometimes, when competition is nearing, training can get really intense.
"Everyone is stressed out and you're constantly repeating the same thing.
"If you can't persevere until you get every detail perfect, you can't do it."
To be perfect, Kah Mun - who made the switch from artistic to rhythmic gymnastics at the age of 12 - practises six times a week, for up to four hours a day.
Her PE teacher, Geoffrey Swee, is full of praise for how she has excelled in both sports and her studies the past year, especially considering her hectic schedule.
He said: "Kah Mun has a very quiet, inner determination. She's not loud, and she doesn't show signs of struggle.
"She's very strong inside and calm on the outside."
Her outing in Glasgow was her first time representing the Republic in competition.
Kah Mun did not bring home a medal, but the experience of competing on the big stage has given her a thirst for more international competitions in the future.
"I'd love to compete at the Olympics some day, but I have to realistic about that," she said.
"To get there, you have to rank among the very best in South-east Asia, at least.
"That's tough for Singapore because we're so focused on academics - but I will try."
For now, Kah Mun is preparing for the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships staring in Turkey on Sept 18.
"The world champs will be a good experience for me.
"There will be some very strong opponents there, including the Russians," she said. "The Russians are a perfect example of taller, lighter, and yet very strong."
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