For the nearly 60,000 fans in the Olympic Stadium in Rio on Sunday, watching Usain Bolt win his third straight 100m gold medal was a unique moment they will never forget.
But for Team Singapore sprinter Timothee Yap, the experience was particularly special.
TeamSG sprinter Timothee Yap in action during the Men's 100m event. Photo: Sport Singapore
Not only was Timothee getting a chance to see his idol outpace Justin Gatlin but he was doing so just a day after meeting Bolt - and running against him on the Olympic track.
Timothee, 21, a wildcard entry for Team Singapore, had made it out of the preliminaries to face the ‘big boys’ in the first round race where he posted a time of 10.79 seconds.
But the mere timings says nothing about the experience for an athlete who was inspired to take up track by watching the Jamaican.
“I have been a fan ever since I saw him on television in the Beijing 2008 Olympic final,” he said.
“I remember I was watching in my living room, late at night, I saw him running down the track, waving his hands wildly. I just thought he had taken the sport to a whole new level and you wondered ‘just how fast can he run’?”
Filled with enthusiasm by Bolt’s magnificent performance at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, where he produced the still-standing Olympic record time of 9.69 seconds, Timothee became almost obsessed with the sprinter.
“The next day I went to school and most of my friends didn’t know what had happened the previous night and I said ‘guys, Usain Bolt just broke the world record’ and I went on and on and on. I really looked up to him and I followed his career closely - I watched all his races and his videos and tried to emulate his running,” he said.
Many young men, when a chance to talk to their idol suddenly appears, find themselves stuck for words but when Timothee’s opportunity came on Saturday he told the Caribbean star precisely what he meant to him and so many others.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (right) interacting with TeamSG sprinter Timothee Yap after the Men's 100m Round 1. Photo: Sport Singapore
“Before the race I told him, because I knew it would be my last race in the Olympics because realistically I was not going to run 0.5s or 0.6s faster overnight, I told him ‘Usain, I saw you when I was a little kid at the Beijing Olympics and you really inspired me a lot and if I don’t get to see you again I just want to thank you for what you have done for the sport.’. "
“He asked me how old I was and said I have a long way to go and to keep working on it. Then the next thing I knew we were racing together on the track,” said Timothee.
“After the race he didn’t shake hands with anyone else, he just came to me and gave me a pat. It was quite a magical moment for me - I hope I made a good lasting impression on him as well,” he said.
Bolt then went out of his way to give Timothee another pat on the back in the mixed zone where the Team Singapore sprinter was conducting an interview with Singaporean television reporter Mark Richmond.
He says this past week has filled him with inspiration and motivation and it is not only Bolt who has been the source.
Timothee had of course watched, on television, his team-mate Joseph Schooling winning his historic gold medal in the 100m Butterfly and seeing that achievement fired him up.
TeamSG swimmer Joseph Schooling won Singapore's first Olympic Gold medal in the Men's 100m Butterfly event. Photo: Sport Singapore
“I watched Joseph and thought whoah, I want to win my heat so bad now,” he said, adding that Schooling’s impact on sport went beyond inspiring the next generation of Singaporean sportsmen and women.
“I think (he inspires) not only in Singapore but in the world, he just beat the greatest Olympian. How do you beat him? You have to do something really amazing and that is what Joseph did with an Olympic record - that’s what it takes,” he said.
“I came here on a wildcard but after racing Usain Bolt and being amongst the world’s best, it is a huge motivation for me to try and make the qualifying time and be there on my own merit the next time. I have probably got to cut 0.4-0.5 seconds off my time, which is quite a lot in 100 metres."
“But I am pretty positive about it because it is only my first year running 100 metres. I was doing hurdles but I kept getting injured so I decided to try 100m and I did pretty well. I decided to continue and here I am,” he added.
Timothee, coached by Han Zhongjian, says his thoughts now are about how to shave time off his personal best of 10.62s and get to the Olympics qualifying mark of 10.16 ahead of Tokyo 2020.
“I think there is a lot to work on. I am still pretty new to the event. Speaking to my friends back in Singapore like (sprinter) Calvin (Kang), they have much more experience, they are calm, composed and they run relaxed whereas I am more tensed up, I still don’t understand the event well enough, I need some more months and years of experience to get that but I think it will come,” he says.
TeamSG sprinter Timothee Yap looking forward to contribute in 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Sport Singapore
More immediately, next year’s SEA Games looms and he wants to help Singapore medal in the relay.
Veterans Amirudin Jamal, Elfi Mustapa, Lee Cheng Wei and Gary Yeo retired after the 2015 Games, leaving Calvin and Naqib Asmin as the only surviving members.
“Next year’s SEA Games, my primary goal is to help Singapore win the relay because we have had a few silvers. The Malaysians and the Thais are very strong but the new generation needs to step up now,” he said.
“Personally for the 100 metres I hope to get below 10.5s next year. You have to have your long term goal and short term goals. I need to work on my technique. I am still very raw, I don’t utilise my height well enough, my stride is quite small, my starting block technique (isn’t there yet) compared to the Europeans, the Americans and the Jamaicans - that is something I need to work on with my coach,” he said.
Timothee is a student of the sport but like all good pupils, he knows the value of advice and guidance.
“I follow athletics quite religiously in terms of watching the 100m races but in terms of training - I trust my coach 100 percent. If I see something that I would like to learn, I will ask my coach first,” he said.
The 'Lightning Bolt' would surely agree.
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