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How Singapore’s Swimmers Won Gold at the Rio Paralympics

When Mick Massey arrived in Singapore in 2014 to take up the position of Head of Swimming at Dulwich College (Singapore), little did he know he would coach two swimmers to medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Following his triumphant return, Mick charted the path to success for us.

paralympics singapore
Medalists Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu with coach Mick Massey at Dulwich College (Singapore)

The emotion of the moments when Yip Pin Xiu claimed two gold medals and Theresa Goh a bronze is still very raw for Mick Massey. Just a week after returning from Rio, he is back at work and fielding requests for interview after interview. And rightly so: the former Team GB National High Performance Head Coach is superbly qualified – and justifiably proud – of delivering Singapore’s second and third gold medals, and its first bronze, at the Paralympics Games.

Mick began coaching the girls in January 2015 at the request of Singapore’s sporting leaders, with a clear directive that the two athletes were capable of making the final – and the podium – in their respective events in Rio. “My philosophy is always the same when given a challenge. I say yes, then I go away and work out how to do what I’ve just signed up for,” he says.

Does coaching athletes with disabilities require different skills from those for able-bodied athletes? “As well as an understanding of sports science physiology, years of coaching experience and the ability to communicate and build professional relationships, coaching Paralympics athletes requires experience in thinking outside of the box,” he says. By way of example, Mick says there are no textbooks that explain how to coach an athlete with Yip Pin Xiu’s disability, muscular dystrophy.

“A coach has to research the condition and ask experts how it affects the body. Above all, you need to build a relationship with the athlete based on trust – so that she isn’t afraid to tell me if she’s having a bad day. After this, basically it’s the same training an able-bodied athlete would do, pro rata.” Mick places great emphasis on building and leading a solid support team made up of a physiotherapist, a physiologist, a biomechanics specialist and a nutrition expert, all of whom play a huge part in the training.

Mick and Pin Xiu
“I pull her out of the water, kiss her on the cheek and she screams,’Did we win?’ “

For more than 18 months, Mick, Theresa and Pin Xiu met and trained at the Dulwich College (Singapore) pool and the OCBC Aquatic Centre for between six and eight sessions a week of up to two hours, plus two hours of strength and conditioning. “Having Headmaster Nick Magnus and the college embrace and welcome the girls to use our facilities was a pivotal moment. Bringing training onto my doorstep and thereby reducing the travelling time was a massive bonus for all three of us,” he says.

Mick was with the athletes all the way to the starting blocks at Rio. His elation at their win is as intense as that of Theresa and Pin Xiu because he has invested so much time and energy in preparing them. “It was amazing when they received their medals; I was so proud for the girls and so proud for the nation of Singapore,” he says.

What’s next for Theresa, Pin Xiu and their coach? The athletes will now think about their future and decide whether they want to compete at the 2020 Games. “That is for the girls to decide,” says Mick.

Mick came to Singapore in 2014 to build a swim team for Dulwich College (Singapore) and he is keen to take the team to London in 2019 for the Dulwich Olympiad to celebrate the school’s 400 years. “Very few coaches will ever get the opportunity to start a project from scratch and leave a legacy in a foreign land. I love life in the college; the drive and commitment that the PE and swim staff show is just infectious. Working with and positively influencing very young children is one of the greatest privileges life can throw at you. It’s an amazing place to work, and there is never a day when I don’t remind myself of that,” he says.

Paralympic team
The team

About the Athletes

Yip Pin Xiu (Left)
Won Singapore’s first Paralympics gold medal (in world record time!) in the 100m backstroke (S2 class) at Rio. The 24-year-old won a second gold medal in the 50m backstroke. She had already won a gold in the 50m backstroke at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. Her disability is muscular dystrophy.

Theresa Goh (Right)
Won a bronze medal in the 100m breaststroke (SB4 class) at Rio. She was the first Singapore swimmer to compete at the Paralympics, in Athens in 2004. 29-year old Theresa has competed in every ASEAN Games and is the most decorated Singaporean athlete in all sports, having won 29 gold medals. Her disability is congenital spina bifida, and she doesn’t have use of her legs.

This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the November 2016 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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