When Yukie Yokoyama woke up on the day of her medal race, she rose to a text from her mom.
“Time to Totally Kick A**,” it read.
And kicked a** she did. Together with her partner, Cheryl Teo, she won the women’s 470 gold medal. But theirs’s was no ordinary path to victory – it was one filled with hardship and curveballs, needing a unique blend of grit and determination only the best of athletes possesses. Here’s their story:
One month ago, at the 470 Worlds in Greece, an accident during measurement put Yukie Yokoyama’s participation at the SEA Games in dire risk. Yukie Yokoyama could not extend her arm beyond 90 degrees after she hyper-extended it while catching a falling mast.
“I was destroyed,” shared Yukie. “The Worlds was a huge tournament for us but we knew the SEA Games was very important to Singapore too.”
The 2017 SEA Games was planned to be a launching pad for Yukie and Cheryl Teo, her crew, in the quest for Olympic glory. Yukie and Cheryl had decided to defer school to become full-time sailors to campaign for the 2020 Olympics and the SEA Games was a key milestone in their journey. They were all in to go for the Olympic dream, but this injury put everything into jeopardy.
Training plans were thrown into a mess and the following month was a huge challenge with vigorous rehabilitation, proper nutrition, and anything possible to accelerate recovery as soon as possible – all while trying to put a positive mindset on things. The 2012 Optimist World Champion demonstrated great determination and fighting spirit to conquer this difficult period.
Even up till the games, she was not 100%. Up against the defending champions, Malaysia, the task was always going to be a tough ask anyway, regardless of the injury or not.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” shared Cheryl. “Everything was really uncertain but as sailors, we knew we had to adapt to conditions, be it in sailing or in life. We have to put our best foot forward.”
True to the sailors’ code, they threw caution to the wind to get themselves as ready as possible for the SEA Games. They left it all out on the waters and took it the races to the Malaysians. Things were looking up in the opening series – the pair took at two-point lead into the medal race.
The situation was simple – finish ahead of the Malaysians, regardless of position to win the gold medal. Failure to do so and the silver medal would have to do.
Off the bat, disaster struck due to a mistake from the Singaporean pair. The Malaysians were way ahead. With more than 20 metres of sea to make up, gold seemed like it was slipping from Yukie and Cheryl’s grasp. It looked unlikely as they rounded the downwind mark three boat lengths behind.
However, Yukie and Cheryl never gave up and they stormed back on the final leg, narrowing the gap boat length by boat length till the finish. At the finish line, spectators on shore could not make out who finished first. Initial cheers from Malaysia’s fans led to Singapore supporters expecting the worst.
It was only when they sailed closer did worried faces turn to joyful cheers – Singapore had won the gold medal!
“We were overwhelmed,” described Yukie.
“We just broke down and cried after the race, not even knowing if we had won. It was so intense. Only when the committee boat displayed the results up two minutes later, did we really know that we won.”
“For us, this gold medal is just the beginning. Our Olympic journey is just started and this is a stepping stone to what is to come. The both of us are really excited to take the next step to keep improving towards the Asian Games and the Olympic qualifiers.”
All the best Yukie and Cheryl. Keep on kicking a**.