SINGAPORE – A handful of fans were at Changi Airport to welcome Boccia players Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha and Toh Sze Ning back home from the Rio Paralympic Games on Tuesday (Sept 20) afternoon.
The duo might have returned home empty-handed from Rio, but the crowd support they had received in Brazil left the biggest impression on them.
Their eyes lit up with excitement when they recalled how they were cheered on by boisterous crowds who did Mexican waves at the Carioca Arena, the Boccia competition venue.
Nurul, who also took part in the 2012 London Paralympics, said: “I felt like I was at the (football) World Cup. The spectators were so loud and expressive when they cheered. I’ve never experienced that kind of atmosphere before.”
Toh, 23, who was making her Paralympics debut, said: “It felt like a soccer match. The crowd made it very exciting.”
The pair were greeted at the arrival hall by their family members and sports officials, including Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.
Nurul and Toh earned the Republic’s best result in the sport at the Paralympics when they made it to the BC3 mixed-pairs bronze medal playoffs, following upsets over higher-ranked opponents Portugal and Greece.
But they eventually lost 1-8 to Greece to narrowly miss out on winning Singapore’s first Paralympic medal in the sport.
The team’s coach Tess Tan noted: “Greece were really on form on that day. They brought their A+ game and we didn’t bring our A game. But overall, we are quite satisfied with our results as we met the goal which we had set out to achieve.”
Nurul, 31, said: “We are sad, of course, but we have surpassed people’s expectations. We also felt surprised and a bit overwhelmed when we beat the higher-ranked teams, which sent a message to other teams that we can win if we put in 100 per cent of our efforts.
“I’m proud of what we have achieved and we have no regrets knowing that we are now the fourth best team in the world.”
Toh said: “I felt disappointed because we came so close yet so far (to winning a medal). But I am glad that we finished in the top four.”
It appears that missing out on a medal has made them even hungrier to go one step further at the Games’ next edition.
Even though Nurul will return back to her job as an auditor after taking a two-year, no-pay leave to prepare for Rio, she is already eyeing a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
She joked: “So this means that I cannot retire yet right? The work is not finished yet. I will be back for Tokyo. For me, I’ve always planned in blocks of four years before the next cycle continues. We need to plan now for the next four years.
“This Paralympics is not the end. We are now ranked fourth and it is another step in our progress.”