by Nicolette Mok
As with many other athletes, Kerstin Ong displayed considerable talent from a young age. The rising Team Singapore track star, who is a Sport Singapore brand ambassador, had been introduced to athletics following a teacher’s recommendation when she was 10 years old.
Making it to the Singapore Sports School via the Direct School Admissions programme when she was 12, the 100-metre hurdles specialist, however, soon found herself struggling to keep up with her teammates.
“I wasn't great. I started out being third from last in my category. That was when I was 13 years old, during my first year in the Sports School,” remarked the 19-year-old, who is currently a student in Republic Polytechnic’s Singapore Sports School programme.
Sitting down with ActiveSG for a chat, Kerstin revealed her secret to eventual success: strong support and guidance in the form of good coaches. With the help of her coaches, she managed to improve her ranking each year, moving up to first place amongst her peers by the time she graduated at the age of 16.
Today, the freshly minted 93rd Malaysia Open Track and Field Championships bronze medallist and Asian Youth Games alumnus is looking to shine at her SEA Games debut next year.
Recounting her journey, Kerstin said: “I started as a sprinter in primary school. But after I enrolled in the Singapore Sports School, I found that I wasn’t very good and sprints team didn't want me. There was an extra slot on the hurdles team, so they took me in. My coaches then trained me and helped me to become a national hurdler.”
Indeed, as a complete newcomer to the event, the aspiring track star had a lot to catch up on. Starting out not knowing anything about hurdles while the rest of the team already had a certain level of expertise, she began by learning to walk over mini hurdles, before progressing to jogging, and sprinting, over them.
“Coaching is definitely very important. We need the guidance from our coaches. As you can see, I received this. I was the odd one out there, third-last in terms of rankings. Four years later, I had reached the top,” she said.
“My coach was very patient, teaching me the right techniques. Hurdling and sprinting is not simply about going out there on the track and running and jumping. It is a sport that emphasises a lot of technique. You definitely need guidance for that. And, as with most other sports, learning the correct form is important in the prevention of injury.”
Of course, Kerstin did not merely pick up a solid foundation in hurdling techniques. Her mentors had, too, been instrumental in helping her develop the confidence and discipline that she needed as she progressed to more elite competitions.
“Sports psychologists have been a great help. But when I was younger, it was always my coaches who reassured me. They’re there to remind me that as long as I’ve trained hard enough, there should be nothing to worry about during the competitions. They’re the ones who have been watching me and they know my progress; whether I’m ready to take on different challenges. In fact, this gives me a sense of assurance, helping me to clear my mind of doubts,” she acknowledged.
“My coaches have also taught me a lot of values. I feel that they have helped me view situations more positively – I now look at everything as a lesson that can help me to grow. I’ve also learnt discipline. If I really want to do well in my sport, then there are certain things that I have to avoid, such as spending too much time outside or giving in to French fry-cravings. I’ve not eaten French fries in a very long time!” she revealed.
When she isn’t on the track or dreaming about deep fried strips of potatoes, Kerstin can sometimes be found hosting ActiveSG videos or fronting the ActiveSG Athletics Club, so keep a lookout for her!