SINGAPORE: Out at sea, it is often just the wind, the water and the waiting.
The clock ticks, the boats bob, and sailors are at a standstill. They wait, for they need circumstances to be in their favour.
For other athletes, patience is a virtue. But for sailors, it is a necessity.
“It is probably the only sport that (competitors) have to wait for so long,” explained 24-year-old Ryan Lo.
Too still? You are told to wait. Too windy? You are told to wait.
Sometimes on the water. Other times, on land.
During a competition in Spain, Lo spent a total of 11 hours out on the water from when he launched till he returned to shore. All he could clock was one race during the time it could have taken for three.
“There are many things that can postpone our races,” he added with a laugh. “There are some cases where we wait the whole day and nothing happens.”
But for Lo, waiting for hours comes as second nature, especially as he has been waiting much longer for the biggest race of his life.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
One of Lo’s earliest memories of the sport was being out at sea with his family. That boat was steered by his half-sister Man Yi.
“I can't really remember how I felt when I first started sailing. (But) I remember going on my sister's boat when I was young … I remember it being quite fun,” recalled Lo.
The soft-spoken Lo picked up the sport at the age of seven, as it was offered as a co-curricular activity (CCA) at his primary school. By then, his siblings were already sailing competitively.
“First year was just pretty much just learning the basics ... and then the second year if I’m not wrong, I wasn’t so into sailing,” he said.
“So I did other stuff like table tennis, Chinese orchestra - definitely did not like that - and a few other sports."
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But it was the taste of competition that drew him back in.
“It was only when I started competing in Primary Three that I started to really enjoy it, and take a greater interest in sailing,” he explained.
“Since then, I guess you can say I’ve never looked back, and I’ve just continued.”
By the time he was in Primary Four, Lo was already representing Singapore in overseas competitions in the Optimist class, where a smaller sailing dinghy is used by children.
Man Yi, who also won gold in the Laser Radial event at the 2005 SEA Games, and Lo’s half-brother Jun Hao, who clinched silver at the 2007 SEA Games, served as inspiration that Lo could one day compete at the top level.
“I was definitely inspired to follow in their footsteps and (they) were my benchmarks and I hoped to repeat similar goals at the SEA Games,” said Lo.
“I've been through what they went through, so they understand how it's like, and what it felt like.”
Man Yi would later go on to represent Singapore at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“I’m pretty sure I was pretty proud (of her). I have a feeling that I talked to my friends about it, but at that age I probably didn't understand the significance of it that much.
“The weight of all these events, the prestige, it only really kicked in for me at a later stage of my teenage life.”
At the age of 13, Lo competed in his first Asian Games, clinching a bronze in the boys’ Optimist competition.
“At the time we had a good Optimist team, a good set up and we were very serious ... in terms of our approach to training and competition compared to other people of other countries of our age and other sailors,” recalled Lo.
“For us, it was not so much about having fun … and more of trying to go to events and do well and perform … We had the expectation to perform to what we were capable of at the time.”
As he grew older, the biggest challenge for Lo was the transition to the adult level.
“The transition from youth to senior is a very big jump for everyone, and I felt that I had to start from zero again (each time), because you have guys 10, 20 years older than you competing in the same level,” he added.
TRAINING PRIVATE RYAN
His National Service (NS) stint threw up new challenges, which he managed to navigate successfully.
While most privates in Sembawang Camp might have been dreaming of going out for the weekend, Saturdays and Sundays held a different significance for Private Ryan Lo.
It was his time to get out on the water.
This was because he had set himself a goal before enlisting - he would try to make Tokyo 2020.
“During NS I was already training as much as I could. So my campaign started already in 2016 when I went into the army,” explained Lo, who was an amphibious vehicle technician during his army days.
“I went through NS and tried to do as much as I could outside of NS to improve in the areas that I could control to help my sailing. So that once I finished my NS, I could be in the best possible shape.”
Training sessions almost every weekday were vital to allow him to put in physical conditioning and gym work, with the weekends kept for workouts on the water.
“We would have normal working hours like from 7.30 until 5.30 or 6. And then after I booked out, I would go straight to the (Singapore) Sports Institute and then do either my gym or cardio,” he recalled.
The going was not always easy.
“There were times where I got frustrated - quite a few times … and a little bit down to see other sailors who I was competing with my age group transitioning (to the next level) and competing with the other guys. Seeing other sailors competing around the world, while I was at home in Singapore and not able to compete," recalled Lo.
"But I knew what my target was, which was the Olympics and I just tried to do all I could.”
To further bolster his preparations, Lo decided to put off his university studies for two years until the Olympics Games.
“I had quite a lot of catching up to do … I didn’t really need to think much about it - I knew I had to focus full time on sailing, on my Olympic campaign, if I wanted to have the chance to qualify,” he explained.
“It was quite a no-brainer for me to take the two years after NS off to focus full time on Tokyo, with the intention to start my uni right after Tokyo 2020.”
After completing his NS in July 2018, Lo’s first shot at qualifying for Tokyo was at the World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. But he could only finish 79th.
Then came the Asian Games later that year. Lo clinched a bronze but fell short of earning the only qualifying berth for the Olympics.
“I knew that I could have finished better than what I did, but it is what it is.”
After the 2019 World Championships in Japan where he failed to reach the standard again, Lo had one more qualifying shot - the Asian Sailing Championships in March 2020.
However, the competition was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Knowing that you still haven’t qualified, the stress of trying to qualify, it (is) lingering on your mind … That wasn't a nice feeling to have,” said Lo.
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“It was very uncertain … We didn’t even know it was going to be April - they confirmed it only three weeks before, not earlier than that, before the start.”
But Lo duly delivered at the Mussanah Open in Oman earlier this year. He dominated the competition and secured his Olympics spot.
But that was only a step towards a bigger goal.
“In the end, the ultimate goal is not to qualify. Ultimately, I want to do well at the Olympics, qualifying is part of the process,” said Lo.
“I want to go to the Olympics and give it the best shot I have - not just go there and compete and make up the numbers … I want to give my best and give the rest of the sailors a run for their money.”
‘I ALWAYS TRY TO BE THE BEST I CAN BE’
In Tokyo, there will be an added challenge - the sweltering summer heat.
“I think the most significant challenge for every sailor over there will be the weather, the heat. So based on our previous experience during this time (of year), it will be really hot in Japan, hot and humid,” said Lo, who participated in an Olympic test event at the same venue in 2019.
Lo believes all that waiting has been beneficial.
“The postponement of the Olympics helped me a lot in terms of my progress as a sailor. Both physically and also (my) technique,” he said.
“Although the results don't really show the whole, full picture, but based on recent results, (there is) definitely a step up from previous years, definitely made a big step forward.”
Now, older, stronger and wiser, he will return to Japan.
“(There is) some satisfaction that I’ve made it and I’m there (with) the top sailors, the top athletes in the world,” explained Lo, who is currently ranked tenth in the world in the Laser Standard class.
“But, at the same time I'm also there to do my job, and to hopefully make the country proud.”
Given how long it has taken him to get to Tokyo, whatever wait he faces out on the waters of Enoshima is unlikely to deter Lo's focus.
After all, when it comes to being patient, he’s already had a lifetime’s worth of practice.
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