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The man behind gold medal winner Saiyidah Aisyah

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National rower Saiyidah Aisyah secured Singapore’s first gold for the sport at the 27th SEA Games in Myanmar. She achieved this amazing feat despite the odds being against her. Goken Sakamoto, a Singapore Sports Institute’s Assistant Director, is part of this amazing story.

Goken Sakamoto (above) is extremely passionate about rowing and training athletes. In fact, it’s second nature to the Japanese national who now resides here. It was this passion for sports that led him to coach national rower Aisyah for free shortly after he came to Singapore. It is this same passion that drives him to wake up at 5am for training sessions with her.

He shared: “It is not difficult for me to wake up at 5am, I just wake up because I feel that it is my responsibility to be there when the training starts. Anyway I go to bed early everyday!”

The first time Goken met Aisyah was in April 2012, at the camp just before the Asian Qualifier for the London Olympics, which was held in Korea. He was there in the capacity of an International Federation Coach.

Goken (left) providing guidance and tips as national rower Aisyah trains with the rowing machine. 

Goken said: “She didn’t leave any strong impression on me as an athlete but something else caught my attention. The Singapore team was there only with athletes and no coach!”

A few months later, he decided to head to Singapore to work for the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI). He remembered the Singapore rowers who were without a coach and contacted them through Facebook. Upon arriving in Singapore in November 2013, he met Aisyah to understand the situation and started to work together.

“When I first assessed Aisyah, I felt that she had potential,” recalled Goken-san. “But, something was missing; her mindset was not right for competitive sports.”

He also felt that while the national rower was fit enough physically, Aisyah had not chalked up enough racing experience. Neither did she have a routine training programme or a yearly competition plan. And there was one big obstacle in Aisyah’s way – her wrong mental model.

“Aisyah and the other athletes I met were complaining about Singapore Sports Council (SSC) and the Singapore Rowing Association. The association was also complaining about SSC and felt that the rowers did not train properly. Everyone was just complaining!” he recalled.

Recognising that Aisyah’s fullest potential was not reached yet, Goken-san told the rower to stop complaining and start training hard.

Luckily for Singapore, Aisyah listened to her new coach. Goken started her on an intense training programme, putting in as many as 12 to 13 sessions throughout the week.

Goken (back to camera) and Aisyah sharing a light hearted moment during training. 

Aisyah also participated in more international races to gain competition experience. But it wasn’t enough.

“That’s when I decided to send her to Sydney for a 3-month training stint,” Goken recalled. (Aishyah utilised her Peter-Lim Scholarship awarded in 2013 to support her 3-month camp)

The rest, as they say, is history and Aisyah did the nation proud by winning Singapore’s first gold medal at the 27th SEA Games!

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