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Impact 0480: Becoming an Olympic gymnast

Tan Sze En · 21 March 2022
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Reader’s Note:

This article was originally published on Youthopia on 22 November 2019. Though some of the events and details in this article may have changed since, we hope to remember those in our community who made an impact to the world around them.

Tan Sze En might only be 19 years old, but she is already a veteran gymnast.

Having spent 13 years in the sport, the former Raffles Girl’s School student isn’t your ordinary teenager — she is also Singapore’s first gymnast to qualify for the Olympic Games in seven years.

Youth.SG met her during a training session at the MOE (Evans) Sports Hall to find out more about her journey to becoming an Olympian.

Having seen her perform with such prowess at the World Championships (or Worlds for short) last month, I was surprised that she is actually soft spoken in person.

“Qualifying was a big surprise. I had no expectations going into Worlds,” said the 1.72m tall athlete, “the motivation has always been the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”

Her story is even more compelling knowing that she had suffered a shoulder injury prior to last year’s Asian Games, and had only begun training in the all-around event four months ago.

The reserved artistic gymnast said: “People think gymnasts are super strong and flexible, but they don’t see the work we put in, just the end result.

“It was really hard during my injury. It affected me at [last year’s] Asian Games as I couldn’t compete in the all-around, so I had to take time away.”

Time away from the gymnasium was difficult for Sze En, who had been training since she was six years old. However, it also gave her the opportunity to reassess her career in gymnastics.

“I was getting burnt out, and that break was actually a blessing in disguise. I returned with a new fire for gymnastics and it made me realise I still wanted to pursue gym,” said Sze En, who returned to the gym to begin simple exercises just one week after her surgery.

“The sacrifices are worth it because sports careers are so short. You have limited time to achieve your goals,” she said, referencing the fact that most gymnasts retire in their early 20s.

Outside the gymnasium, Sze En is eloquent and well-read, gaining admission into the prestigious Stanford University last year. However, she put her studies on hold to prepare for the Olympics.

“I took a gap year from Stanford. But now it’s worth it because I’ve made it to Tokyo,” she said, smiling.

She wishes to pursue a degree in geological sciences in the future as she has always been fascinated with learning about earthquakes and volcanoes.

Despite her youth, the Olympian is truly a representative of the rising generation of Singaporeans who are making a mark on the world stage. As Sze En prepares to bear the Singapore flag in Manila and Tokyo, she encourages fellow youth to do what they love.

She said: “I’ve had moments of wanting to give up, but I don’t want to regret and have ‘what if’s. That’s why I keep going.

“I want to show the younger generation that nothing is impossible. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

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