Two years ago, the thought of participating in the 28th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) never crossed Michelle Sng's mind. After sustaining a shin injury in 2007, the 28-year-old high jumper decided to hang up her spikes in 2010. "I wasn't reaching the heights that I wanted to. I thought I should just move on to the next phase of my life," Sng explained. However, when her coach Chan See Huey prompted her to return to the sport at the end of 2013, Sng took a leap of faith and made a quiet reappearance by easing into off-season training.
It wasn't long before Sng's presence on the scene was felt again. At the Philippines National Open earlier this March, Sng rewrote the national women's high jump record of 1.80m — also previously set by her — when she cleared a height of 1.84m.
While other athletes have set their sights on a podium finish for the upcoming SEA Games, Sng is focused on breaking the national record while etching a personal best. "If that puts me on the podium, then great," says Sng. "If not, I know I've tried my best; and if my best is not enough, I will go back and work harder." In comparison to other athletes, her goals might seem modest, but considering the 27th SEA Games women's high jump gold medal was awarded to Vietnamese athlete Thi Viet Anh Duong for clearing a height of 1.84m, Sng might very well be finishing on the podium come 12 June.
What's your training schedule like in the lead up to the games?
I attend about six sessions a week. Two on the track, two for technique, and two at the gym. As I don't train full-time, my load isn't as heavy as that of a full-time athlete.
Tell us about your earliest memories of the sport
Back in Secondary One, I represented my class for high jump at the inter-class sports competition as nobody wanted to take part in it. So that was really the first time I jumped. Back then, YouTube wasn't big and it wasn't as easy to find videos on the internet. I learnt how to jump by printing out diagrams and studying them.
What goes through your mind before a jump?
I try to visualise the jump and see myself clearing it before running through the steps in my head. I remind myself of the little things I need to do before taking off. You have to be ready before you take your first step because you don't have much time to react once you start.
I learnt how to jump by printing out diagrams and studying them
What do you consider your first milestone to be?
Being selected for the Asian Junior Championships in 2004. Back then, apart from going to slightly smaller meets in the region, that was the first major competition for me. We had to take a 10-hour bus ride up to Ipoh. I arrived at the venue and felt so lost. I didn't know what was going on. I remember standing there, preparing to jump, and looking up to see myself on a huge screen at the other side of the stadium. I thought, "Wow, that's me," and quickly told myself: "Alright, focus, I need to jump now." I jumped a 170cm at the competition and came in fourth. I put up a good fight for the bronze medal and that was where it all started; I knew that I could do this at a much bigger stage, not just in Singapore.
What's the best advice your coach has given you?
She's always reminded me to stay humble and not let the fame get to my head. That's important to me.
Catch Michelle live on 12 June, 4pm, at the Singapore National Stadium as she competes in the Women’s High Jump Gold Medal Match for the 28th SEA Games
Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Fashion direction: Norman Tan
Styling assistance: Pakkee Tan
Hair and makeup: Marie Genevieve Jessie Soh