School's out, but shuttler Liang in contention for Rio Olympics
Shuttler Liang in contention for Rio Games after dropping out of school to improve her game
Seven months ago, shuttler Liang Xiaoyu was struggling with bad health and her game suffered too.
The 19-year-old had just started her Republic Polytechnic Sports and Leisure Management course after finishing her studies at the Singapore Sports School, and was finding it hard to juggle studies and training.
"I stay in Marsiling and take about 90 minutes to get to my training at the Sports Hub, and then I had to come back to the Sports School for lessons in the evening," said Xiaoyu after training at the Woodlands-based school yesterday.
The OCBC Arena, which is the national shuttlers' training ground, is now being prepped for the Asean Para Games next month.
The daily commute took a toll on her, as she was unable to rest properly after training and started to fall sick frequently.
She lost in the first round of the women's singles qualifiers at the OUE Singapore Open in April, and exited the quarter-finals of the South-east Asia Games in June in the same event.
Xiaoyu deferred her studies several times, before she decided to stop school completely several weeks ago to focus on her training.
"The RP programme is already the best an athlete can ask for if you want to balance both sports and studies but, in the end, I wanted to focus on my badminton for now because I feel that I am at a good age to improve significantly," said the shuttler, ranked 48th in the Olympic qualifying ranking.
She fretted over the decision for "a long time", and her parents - who hoped that she could balance both badminton and studies - gave their blessings after seeing how she failed to cope.
Since dropping out of school, Xiaoyu has improved significantly on court.
She beat former world champion Ratchanok Intanon at the Thailand Open women's singles semi-finals last month before losing to South Korea's then-world No. 7 Sung Ji Hyun in the final.
She won the women's singles title at the Maybank Malaysia International Challenge Championships last Sunday.
Xiaoyu said: "I feel that I have improved when it comes to on-court strategy, and I am in better physical condition to train since I'm resting better in between training sessions.
"In the past, I would blow hot and cold in competitions, but now, I feel that my performances are more consistent, regardless of the results."
National coach Chua Yong Joo added: "Xiaoyu has been able to focus better in training as well, and she's matured on court in terms of her shot selection and strategy."
Her recent performances have also seen her shoot up the world rankings: she was 120th at the start of last month.
Importantly, she is also in the reckoning for a spot in the Olympic women's singles event next year, with teammate Chen Jiayuan placed 64th in the Olympic qualifying ranking.
"I always try to do well in my competitions, and it wasn't to qualify for the Olympics in particular, said Xiaoyu, who previously said that her target was Tokyo 2020.
"It would be great if I do make it next year, but anything can happen since we are only halfway through the qualifying window, and I am not going to change my training and competition plan."