Sailors Justin and Lim a huge step closer to Olympic dream
Justin and Denise confident they will represent Singapore at 2016 Olympics
It started out as a dream to race in the 2016 Rio Olympics in a new sailing event, which they chanced upon after their failed attempt to qualify for the Incheon Asian Games last year.
That dream saw Justin Liu and Denise Lim embark on a 15-month journey, spending virtually all their savings - around $50,000 - and even sleeping in a car in Europe, as they trained and competed in various events.
Last Sunday, they took a giant stride to making the Rio Games when they won the Nacra 17 event at the Isaf World Cup in Qingdao, China, which doubled up as the Asian qualifier for the 2016 Olympics.
The victory meant the two 24-year-olds have earned Singapore a slot in the mixed multi-hull event, which will make its Olympic debut in Brazil next year.
"It is actually amazing... It was almost a miracle that we managed to make it that far," Liu told The New Paper yesterday, 24 hours after the sailors returned from China.
The next step is for Liu and Lim to get the nod in the Singapore Sailing Federation's (SSF) internal trials, which applies for all Olympic classes, with details to be released soon.
Said Liu: "We have a good chance to be selected for the Olympics, but it's sport, so anything can happen.
"We will be working hard and doing all that we can to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games."
Aided by funding from the SSF for some regattas, Liu and Lim, who have been a couple for almost nine years, set aside a budget up to the Qingdao race.
The national sports association also bought the second-hand boat which was used in the World Cup for $24,080 from Spaniard Toni Rivas, who coached the pair at the Nacra 17 World Championships in Denmark in July, and in Qingdao last week.
While they were used to having SSF handle matters like the budget, race planning and logistics as youth sailors, the pair, who had clothing and rope sponsors for their qualifying campaign, had to handle such matters on their own in their quest for Olympic qualification.
They needed to rent a car with a tow bar to attach the trailer for their boat when they trained in Europe for three months earlier this year.
They found their ride in Holland, but had to drive to Barcelona to pick their boat up before making a U-turn back to train, all in all a four-day, 3,200km road trip.
"On the first day we drove till 10pm and couldn't find a hotel, so we ended up sleeping in the car," said Liu, a third-year business and economics student at the National University of Singapore.
"It was an adventure," added Lim, a nurse at the Changi General Hospital.
"We never did this before, so it was new to us. It was fun."
Liu and Lim will join the SSF's Olympic training squad, which will provide hopefuls with more support.
On his Facebook page, SSF president Ben Tan lauded the pair.
He also wrote: "Singaporeans have never been strong in the Nacra 17 (or any other catamarans) internationally and our Nacra 17 duo had no prior track record in that class.
"Based on merit, SingaporeSailing had, until now, little justification to demand funding from Sport Singapore for them.
"Now that they have the results, SingaporeSailing can then use that to justify for further funds to be allocated specifically to the pair to continue their journey towards Rio 2016."