Friday, 7 September 2012

Laurentia Tan: Living in a silent blockbuster

By Alywin Chew, TODAY, 6 Sep 2012

The beauty of silent films lies in the artistry of actors' body language and facial expressions, relying on the poignance of the unspoken to evoke viewers' interpretation of the performance.

In Laurentia Tan, the profoundly deaf heroine, we can draw a parallel.

Following up on her bronze medal win in the Grade 1A Individual Championship Dressage Test on Monday, Tan again captivated the judges at Greenwich Park with a sterling performance in her Individual Freestyle Test yesterday, winning Singapore's first silver medal in the sport with a score of 79.000.

Britain's Sophie Christiansen bagged gold with a score of 84.750 and Helen Kearney of Ireland finished third with 78.450.

Tan's feat makes her the most bemedalled Singapore Paralympian with one silver and three bronzes.

"I'm over the moon, I didn't expect another medal," said the 33-year-old who has cerebral palsy. She had finished third in the same event at the 2008 Beijing Games and did not expect a medal this time round.

"So many people come up to me and say 'wow' and how much I've inspired them."

But it is not her improvement from a bronze to silver that is awe-inspiring.

To begin with, the odds were always going to be against her.

Freestyle dressage requires riders to perform a series of manoeuvres with their horses in harmony with music.

And the fact that Tan can hardly hear Big Ben's chime, much less her own musical choice of Sugarplum Fairy combined with Senorita, makes her achievement even more admirable.

Relying on an assistant who does nothing more than indicate when the music begins and ends, the 33-year-old banks on her impeccable sense of timing and a phenomenal connection with her horse to execute her routine.

To make matters even more compelling, she has only been with her young German gelding Ruben James 2 for a mere 10 months, as compared to most other riders who have had their horses for years. Her previous horse, a gelding named Harvey, has been retired from competition.

And because Ruben James 2 is a leased horse based in Cologne, Germany, training sessions for the London-based Singaporean rider were hardly ideal.

"As compared to Beijing, training for this Paralympics has been very difficult," said Tan's mother, Jannie. "We could only travel to Germany once or twice a month for about a week each time just to train."

Of her daughter's ability to overcome the odds, Jannie added: "Laurentia works hard for what she believes in. Her philosophy to life is 'you don't know what you can achieve until you've tried it'.

"Then of course she puts in hard work, passion and focus. She would never miss training."

Before the Paralympics kicked off on Aug 29, Tan explained during an interview with her alma mater, Oxford Brookes University, that there is no secret to success apart from determination and repetition.

"It is just training; practice ... practice ... and more practice. I have learnt to 'feel', calculate and think positive," she said.

Team manager Monique Heah was initially cagey about Tan's medal chances ahead of yesterday's test, acknowledging that competition today is tougher than ever given the steady rise of interest in the para-equestrian discipline.

"The Europeans are very strong. If you look at the scores before and now, a lot more is required to win a medal today," Heah said on Monday.

But even that, in addition to all other obstacles, could not stop Tan from making Singapore sporting history to cue the end credits to her self-directed, and now critically acclaimed, silent movie on the London Games.

Singapore's Paralympians receive warm welcome home
Equestrian Laurentia Tan wins The Straits Times' Athlete of the Year 2012 Award

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