PHOTGRAPH: The Straits TImes
She’s the first Singaporean to win two gold medals at a single Paralympics and we couldn’t be more inspired by her.
Para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu etched her name into Singapore’s sporting history on Friday morning (Sept 16) when she clinched gold in the 50m backstroke S2 final at the ongoing Paralympic Games in Rio.
The 24-year-old, whose muscular dystrophy leads to the progressive weakening of the muscles, had triumphed in the 100m back S2 event last week and is the first Singaporean to win multiple gold medals at the same Games.
It brings her overall tally to three golds and a silver. She won the 50m backstroke S3 event and finished second in the 50m freestyle S3 at the 2008 Beijing edition.
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To celebrate Yip’s historic feats, The Straits Times looks back at some of the major milestones in her career.
Yip was five when she picked up the sport, having watched her two older brothers Alvin and Augustus take swimming lessons. Family outings on the weekends were mostly spent at the Geylang Bahru Swimming Complex.
The 12-year-old was talent spotted by a swimming coach with the Singapore Disability Sports Council and joined the council’s sports programme. Within a few months, Yip entered the national junior para championships and won gold in all six events she competed.
In her first international competition, the World Wheelchair and Amputee Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Yip won two gold medals and a bronze in Brazil. She added another two golds at the Asia Paralympics Swimming Championship in Kuala Lumpur later that year. When she started, Yip’s specialty was the front crawl, but her deteriorating condition forced her to switch to the backstroke, even for freestyle events.
Just 15, Yip’s trophy cabinet was already full. She won three golds at the Japan Paralympic Swimming Championships and four more at the World Wheelchair and Amputee Games in Taipei. The Bendemeer Secondary School student had amassed more than 30 swimming medals, both locally and internationally, in her budding swimming career.
This was a momentous year for Yip. She breaks her first world record at April’s US Paralympics swimming trials, clocking 1min 0.80sec in the 50m backstroke S3 event. Five months later, she made her Paralympic debut in Beijing and showed no nerves on the biggest stage as she stormed to victory in the 50m back S3 and added a silver in the 50m free S3 event. It was the first time Singapore had won a Paralympic gold.
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Her breakthrough performances in China ignited a debate about equal prize-money between para-athletes and able-bodied athletes. The rewards for para-athletes who won medals at major games were eventually increased.
After taking a break from competitive swimming, Yip picked up where she left off, winning a gold and silver at the International Paralympic Council (IPC) Swimming World Championships in Eindhoven.
The London Paralympics saw Yip twice narrowly miss out on podium finishes. She was fourth in both the 50m and 100m freestyle S3 finals. Her pet event, the 50m backstroke, did not feature.
Competing on home soil at the Asean Para Games, Yip bagged a gold (50m back) and two silvers (50m & 100m freestyle) in the S5 category. Due to the lack of swimmers in her class, she had to compete in the S5 division, against competitors more physically functional than her. Yip still managed to set a new world record in the 50m back event in a time of 1:01.61sec, 1.39 seconds faster than 2012 Paralympic champion Feng Yazhu’s 1:03.00 effort.
In May’s IPC Swimming European Open Championships, Yip won two golds and set two world records. She clocked 2:09.79sec in the 100m back S2, six seconds faster than the previous mark of 2:16.31. She was not done and rewrote the 50m back S2 in a time of 1:00.64sec.
She smashed both marks last week at the Rio Games, clocking 59.38sec and 2:07.09 respectively.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.