Culture

“You are not what you cannot accomplish”: Olympian Yeo Jia Min on dealing with disappointment

This National Day, Thir.st celebrates the fighting spirit of our Team Singapore athletes and all Singaporeans!

by Gracia Chiang // August 6, 2021, 2:28 pm

Singapore shuttler Yeo Jia Min Olympics

Image source: All photos from Yeo Jia Min's Instagram page

“I’m sorry.”

Overwhelmed with emotions after how her first Olympic outing concluded, Yeo Jia Min was fighting back tears during her interview with local media

Although the world No. 30 was coming up against an opponent who was ranked 12 places ahead of her, the national shuttler had bagged two wins during their most recent encounters in 2019. 

Post-match, it was hard to hide her heartache as the Singaporean badminton player felt that she wasn’t able to play her best game at the women’s singles event where she lost to South Korea’s Kim Ga-eun.

Struggling to compose herself, the 22-year-old explained then that she didn’t think her Olympic experience would “end like this”.  

Catching up with Thir.st a week after her final match at Tokyo, Jia Min reflects on what she has learnt through her Olympic debut.

Having started on badminton when she was 7 years old and entered her first competition at the age of 8, Jia Min said being able to qualify for the Olympics was a dream come true.

“I was happy and excited because it was a place that I’ve always wanted to step into and experience,” she said. “I trained so hard — there was sweat and tears preparing for it.”

However, she also admitted: “As I get more invested in this sport that I love, I also know that sport is tough.

“It doesn’t always promise you the same returns of what you sacrifice or the work that you put in. But it does make us a stronger person and give us a stronger faith in God if we continue to invite Him into our lives.”

A member of Athletes in Action, this is not the first time that Jia Min has talked about her faith.

Athletes in Action: What should a Christian sportsperson look like?

On the day that she was knocked out of the competition, Jia Min shared on her Instagram page that she didn’t achieve what she wanted and might have disappointed many.

But she also mentioned how she had trusted in God and was grateful for the process. 

She had written: “It’s a journey of growth and this is not the end. There’s no shortcuts, but to learn from failure and to do things better the next time. I won’t give up but I’m looking forward to be back better 🙌  .”

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by J I A M I N 杨佳敏 (@yeo_jiaminn)

Jia Min told Thir.st that, in fact, just 10 days before the Olympics, she was suddenly caught off guard by an injury.

“I was doing sprinting intervals during practice and suddenly my knee felt weird to push off. I stopped and found myself not being able to walk properly, and it started to swell up immediately.

“For the next few days I was so scared because it didn’t get better when I woke up,” she said, as she thought she might not be able to compete anymore.

“Suddenly, tears of worry changed to tears of gratefulness…”

“I was confused and worried. I thought to myself: Why did it have to happen now when nothing was wrong with my body for months? And it happened because I was giving my best.”

But when she turned to God, Jia Min was reminded that whether or not she could take part in the Games, He already knew the outcome and she would be able to go through it with His help.  

“Suddenly, tears of worry changed to tears of gratefulness of His love for me,” she recalled.

SETBACKS MAKE WAY FOR COMEBACKS

When asked how she felt about her performance at the Games, Jia Min shared that the experience was meant to be an opportunity to grow

Just the day before, she had beaten Mexico’s world No. 92 Haramara Gaitan comfortably in her first match of the Games, but the loss to her South Korean opponent meant she had to bow out only after her second match. 

“I truly believe that our worth is not in our achievements and medals…”

“Not being able to showcase what I have been training so hard for is something that is really disappointing, but I only have myself to be accountable,” she reflected.

“However, I strongly believe that what I can take out of this game and the impact that it would have on me will only make me become a better player.” 

It helps that Jia Min doesn’t see her identity as being tied to how much she can accomplish. As an elite athlete who has taken part in many international competitions, she has seen first-hand how this can impact one’s mental health

“I truly believe that our worth is not in our achievements and medals, but we are worth much more as a child of God. It gives us freedom to enjoy the process and to enjoy what we do because we do it for God,” she elaborated.

“It was something I experienced that changed me along my sporting journey.”

Renowned marathoner Mok Ying Ren on the greatest race of his life

In sport — as in life — there are highs and lows, defeats and victories. 

This is how Jia Min approaches such moments: “I usually cope with disappointment by learning from it and to look forward. And to celebrate achievements by learning to celebrate the small wins in life.”

She also had a word of advice for young people striving towards their goals: “Just know that you are not what you cannot accomplish because your worth is in Christ, so don’t ever lose that faith.”

Jia Min’s targets are for two more Olympics: Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028. So for now she has her mind set on the work she needs to do to prepare herself better for the next competition. 

Over the past two weeks, we’ve rooted for Team Singapore while watching them represent us on the world stage – we hoped with bated breath as they competed and shared in the crushing pain of defeat when they lost.

But perhaps in times of unexpected results, no one can really claim to understand the degree of disappointment than our athletes themselves who have worked so hard to get to where they are. 

Now that the Olympics are coming to a close, all that’s left to say is that we’ll continue to cheer on our Singapore athletes – victorious or not. Your fighting spirit is the kind of Singapore spirit that we want to celebrate! 

We echo the words of Jia Min’s boyfriend, national swimmer Pang Sheng Jun, who posted an encouraging message for her after her loss at Tokyo.

“To Jia Min – You didn’t let anyone of us down. You represented us the best way you could, and left everything in the court. That is the spirit of a winner, and you’ve already won in our hearts.”


FOR OTHER STORIES ON THE OLYMPICS:

Overcoming the odds: Team Singapore sailor Amanda Ng on her journey to the Olympics

Just in time for the Olympics: The story behind a manga about failure and faith

Before you start taking potshots, do you know what people might be going through?

Team Singapore, what is wrong with us?

THINK + TALK

  1. What lessons can you learn from a recent failure or setback? 
  2. Have you experienced the freedom of living a life where your worth is not tied to your performance? 
  3. How would you describe who you are? Where/who/what do you derive your identity from?
About the author

Gracia Chiang

Gracia used to chase bad news. Now she shares Good News. A journalist by training, Gracia is thankful that she gets to use her gift of writing to bring hope.