Olympics: Singapore's Joan Poh revels in rowing against the currents
Singapore rower achieves Olympic dream despite difficulties in getting coaching
National rower Joan Poh is excited to head to her maiden Olympics not just due to the joy of achieving her dream, but also because, as she put it, she finally has a coach to call her own.
Canadian coach Laryssa Biesenthal arrived in Singapore last month and on July 5, the two-time Olympic bronze medallist conducted training in person after completing her stay-home notice (SHN).
It was the first time that Poh, 30, had a coach by her side in training since 2018.
"I am very excited about going to the Olympics. I finally have a coach that I can call mine," Poh told The New Paper.
"Previously, I was coached by whoever was willing to coach me at little to no cost...
"This is the first coach we officially appointed and the first one I am able to physically go to competition with. Since 2018, I haven't had a coach physically with me."
Hoping to make the most of their limited time together, Poh trained for 10 consecutive days with Biesenthal, taking her first full day off only yesterday.
While Biesenthal was serving her SHN at a hotel, she also conducted training remotely, and that real-time guidance was already beneficial, said Poh, as she saw her timings improve.
For the previous 44 weeks that Poh was under the Canadian's guidance, they had to use pre-recorded videos due to the 13-hour time difference.
The 50-year-old had to remain in Canada earlier due to travel restrictions.
The duo met at a development camp at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Austria. Shortly after, Poh asked Biesenthal to be her coach.
Before that, Poh trained with the Hong Kong, China, Greece and Australian national teams and had to learn to take instructions in multiple languages.
Getting Biesenthal to conduct training for her in Singapore wasn't an easy feat, either.
Poh's manager Koh Yu Han had to work against the clock to get Biesenthal to Singapore in time for the Games.
"It's usually a natural thing for an athlete to train with a coach. But for me, getting a coach to be with me physically, I have to count my blessings," Poh said.
The reduction of the SHN period from 21 to 14 days was a welcome boost as it meant an additional week of in-person training with Biesenthal, which could make all the difference.
"It makes me happy but at the same time disheartened, as it means that having a coach really can help so much and I could have been better than I am now if I had that support earlier," she said.
Besides her difficulties in getting a coach, qualifying for the Olympics was also an arduous journey for Poh.
She had to juggle her job as a nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital with her training schedule, but was lucky enough to take leave in March to focus on training for the Olympic qualifiers in May.
"My journey is different from most athletes. I continued to do as much training as I could while working," she said.
"While other countries' athletes were focusing on training in safe areas, I went to the frontline."
She is grateful to her coach for understanding her circumstances and designing a training programme that would work around her commitments.
"I think all things considered, this is the best I can prepare for both qualification and the Olympics," she said.
On her goals in Tokyo, Poh said: "I want to put on my best performance and put Singapore as high up the ranks as possible."
She recalled her experience at the 2019 World Rowing Championships where the announcer had trouble identifying Singapore when announcing Poh's nationality.
"I am hoping this opportunity gives me a chance to put Singapore on the world map," she said.
Participating in the Olympics still feels surreal for Poh, who started rowing in 2014, in her final year of university.
"With my background, I didn't think I would come this far, especially with a late start," she said.
"I hope parents who will be turning their TVs on for their children to watch the Olympics will see it as encouragement to strive for their dreams, beyond their circumstances and resources."
Beyond the Olympics, she hopes to become a mentor on the local rowing scene and smoothen the path for those who come after her.
"Doing sports can be really tough if you have no mentor or role model, so I hope I can be that person to the next generation of rowers and to give back to youths who are interested in picking up rowing," she said.
To that end, she is training 10 young women in the hopes that they can represent Singapore at next year's SEA Games in Hanoi and Asian Games in Hangzhou.