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Post SEA Games Interview – Rachel Isabel Yang, “I put my university study on hold and self-financed to learn pole vaulting”
  • January 26th, 2010

We continue our post SEA Games interview. The last one, we highlighted sprinter Gary Yeo, and today’s interview we spotlight the Republic only full-time women pole vaulter, Rachel Isabel Yang.

Rachel is epitome of the truest essence of resilience and determination, taking pole vaulting seriously and always working to be the best she can be. The 27-year-old set about on a mission of success to test her limits with her passion for pole vaulting.

The career of an athlete is one which is rarely if ever very long, always full of sacrifices for the sake of sports, and the interview below goes to show sports in Singapore still have room for improvement in aiding and supporting our high-performance athletes.

Photos courtesy of Rachel Isabel Yang and Team Singapore.


Rachel Isabel Yang

Rachel Isabel Yang

Rachel Isabel Yang

Gender: Female

D.O.B: February 28, 1982

Affiliation: Cedar Girls’ and Hwa Chong Junior College alumni

Coach: David Yeo

Post SEA Games result: Did not start, 8th


So the SEA Games are over, what are you doing currently?

Back to work, some light training and plenty of rehabilitation for my back injury.

By profession, may I know what is your occupation?

I’m a full-time tutor but I hold a degree in Speech Therapy.

Going into the SEA Games Laos, what was your goal, and expectations?

I was expecting a silver medal and a new National Record.

What was the normal daily routine when you were at Laos?

I was roomed with Zhang Guirong, Wan Lay Chi and Teo Hui Juen. Guirong was our ‘chaperon’ and she would wake us up for breakfast every morning at 7.30am and off the lights at around 10pm every night.

Rachel Yang with her bunkmates at the SEA Games. Wan Lay Chi, Rachel, Zhang Guirong and Teo Hui Juen (Clockwise from top)

Rachel Yang with her bunkmates at the SEA Games. Wan Lay Chi, Rachel, Zhang Guirong and Teo Hui Juen (Clockwise from top)

After breakfast, I would head down to the practice track for training. Then, I would be back in the village for lunch. Normally, I would take a nap after lunch then go for dinner around 6.30pm.

Everyone would gather in the coaches’ room for daily team briefing at 8pm.

How was the SEA Games village?

The Games Village will be a university hostel after the SEA Games. Hence, the basic amenities were there. My only issue was that the water from the water heater weren’t hot enough most of the time. We were freezing during our showers in the evening when the temperature dropped to 12ºC.

The SEA Games village in Laos

The SEA Games village in Laos

Share with us your competition experience. I’m sure many are wondering why you didn’t took part in the finals.

Since July, I have been training with vaulting poles with stiffer flex that were inappropriate for my body weight because my pole (the only suitable one) broke during one of the trainings. Cumulatively, this caused my back to strain. The delivery of the new poles for many reasons was delayed till 2 weeks before our departure for SEA Games. It was a pretty bad strain but everything was under control after receiving treatment from SSC’s medical staffs in the Games Village.

Recovery and training were going as planned and I was clearing 3.80-3.90m in my “last training” 4 days prior to the competition. My back was recovering well and I was expecting for an even better performance in the competition.

Rachel prepares for training while in Laos

Rachel prepares for training while in Laos

On the same day, SAA team physiotherapist arrived in Laos and took over the treatment for my back. After which, the pain got more intense and I was having problem bending forward. I returned to consult the SSC’s doctor and he commented that my injury was worse than the first day he saw me.

The team officials suggested that I take an anesthetic injection on the affected area to mask the pain on the day of my competition. However, the doctor advised against it. A second opinion sought from the other SSC’s doctor drew the same conclusion. Both cited that it was too dangerous to have the pain masked when the pain was in the spinal region.

Little did Rachel expect her back strain would turn out to be a nightmare and result in a DNS

Little did Rachel expect her back strain would turn out to be a nightmare and result in a DNS

For the next 3 days, I was given intensive rehabilitation, 4 times a day by SSC’s physiotherapist, hoping for an improved condition. On the eve of my competition, the physiotherapist evaluated and suggested that I might have a slipped disc. It was then that I decided to withdraw from the competition.

Upon returning to Singapore, an MRI scan confirmed that two inter-vertebral disc, L4 and L5 were protruded.

If you were to relive your SEA Games in Laos once again, is there anything you would do differently?

I would just seek treatment from the SSC medical team.

Tell us about your coach, and the relationship you have with your coach, David Yeo.

He is an exceptionally talented coach with very sharp eyes for details in terms of spotting technical errors and knows the key components for each and every event. But coming from a gymnastics background, he only has passion for pole vault and coaches only pole vault.

He focuses a lot on technical aspects and is often criticized by fellow coaches for having scrawny vaulters. Unlike most coaches, he does not have fixed training plans for us as he believes that our body conditions are different every training and he will prescribe the program according to how we feel on the training day itself.

Visit Coach David Yeo website at www.coachdavidyeo.com

He is definitely very committed and passionate about his work and often gives up his holidays and family time for training – he will only call off training on the first day of Lunar New Year and Christmas Day. He will still carry on with his training even if only one athlete turns up.

Actually, he is my fiancée too. We were engaged in Australia in 2003. If anyone ever has the chance to ask him, he will say that it’s very difficult to coach me due to our relationship.

Very often, I will overwrite his instructions and training plans for me where none of his athletes will do so. Perhaps it’s because I started out being his fiancée first, so it’s hard for me to behave like an athlete when with him.

Tell us of the arrangement of being trained under your coach, sacrifices made by your coach. Do you get any support/funding from SAA?

I did not receive much funding from SAA. Instead, my coach has spent more than $30,000 out of his own pocket paying for my competitions and equipment.

Even before SAA implemented the co-sharing scheme, I was told to pay for my competitions in full. For instance, in 2009, though I had qualified for the World Universiade, my application for SAA Co-Sharing Scheme was rejected as World Universiade was not listed in their event calendar even though it was stated in the Co-Sharing Scheme that all my competitions (regardless of region) will be paid for since I have met the SEA Games qualifying mark.

Rachel Yang representing the Republic at the 25th World Universiade

Rachel Yang representing the Republic at the 25th World Universiade

Apart from sacrificing financially as mentioned earlier, he gave up his dream of being a Music Engineer and rejected some higher-paid jobs opportunities such as being a full-time teacher in a top institution here.

He has to finance his own development in his coaching career. He has paid for most of his trips to attend pole vault conferences and seminars in the US, China and Germany.

When he approached SAA for an endorsement to help raise funds to do his Sports Science degree in Australia, SAA initially offered to pay for his education but backed off one day before his departure and only give him a study loan, stating that they ‘should not give people things on a sliver platter’.

How did you get started in pole vaulting? Were you discovered, or was it your own initiative.

Prior to pole vaulting, I was a javelin thrower and 4x100m relay runner during my days in Cedar Girls’ and Hwa Chong Junior College.

I also represented my school in badminton and volleyball when I was in lower secondary but had to give up the 2 sports because I had problem coping with my schoolwork. I retired from sports in 2001.

In 2002, David asked me to give it a try in pole vaulting as he saw that I possessed the basic speed, power and agility which was good for pole vaulting.

Rachel showing us pole vaulting in motion - The Approach

Rachel showing us pole vaulting in motion - The Approach

Unfortunately, in the first training I tore my anterior cruciate ligament of my left knee after landing awkwardly while doing a drill. I returned to training 9 months after my ACL reconstruction surgery.

Then I was in Australia with David while he was reading his degree. I was forced to stop training again a month later as I tore my meniscus in the same knee.

Due to the insurance company policy in Australia, I could only have the surgery a year later in 2004. After having 2 surgeries on the same, David decided that I should allow full recovery before restarting pole vaulting.

The Run-Up

The Run-Up

In 2006, when David returned to Singapore after his graduation, I took a year off from my university studies and followed him back to Singapore to learn pole vaulting.

Everything took off well. I cleared 3.25m after 6 months of training. Our target was to qualify for Doha Asian Games. I was training hard and waited patiently and naively for SAA to send me to competitions.

By August, I was already clearing 3.80m, the qualifying mark for Asian Games, in training but somehow, SAA had not send me for any competition yet. I guessed SAA’s policy was on youth development and not on senior like me.

Furthermore, my ‘tiny’ built was not be able to convince the skeptics. Nobody believed that I could make it.

The Take-Off

The Take-Off

Outrageously, I caught SAA attention through a contest organized by The New Paper, which I entered just for fun. Being the final four of this contest, we were asked by the organizer to attend the ‘Big Walk’, a SAA and The New Paper joint effort event, as a “VIP” (just the organizer way of calling it).

In the Big Walk’s post event lunch, one of the New Paper reporters brought me to the table with the SAA management personnel and introduced me to them.

They seemed surprised about my existence as a women pole-vaulter. One of them even blamed my coach for not highlighting to them though my coach had proposed sending me for competition several times.

The Clearance - Photo via TV Smith

The Clearance - Photo via TV Smith

After that day, finally in November 2006, SAA send me to compete in Malaysia Open. I could still remember vividly being very nervous and inexperienced and as a result, I only managed to clear 3.40m.

Tell us of your own sacrifices. What do you think you’re missing out, being a professional and juggling with training/sports? Or the sports itself is your own self-gratification.

To list a few of my sacrifices I have made to be a pole vaulter:

  1. I put my university study on hold for a year to learn pole vaulting;
  2. I self financed most of the competitions I have been initially;
  3. I paid on my own for most of my poles;

At the moment, my life is centered around my training. I took up tutoring because of the flexibility in timing whereas most of the full-time jobs are very rigid. However, I have to work very long hours on my non-training days to make ends meet, get paid only when I work, no leaves, no medical benefits or CPF.

I love kids and I envy my friends who have kids. I have to postpone my plans to have kids because I have the dream of qualifying for the Olympics.

Correct me if I’m wrong, you’re the only woman pole-vaulter competing in Singapore right? What does that say about the future of woman’s participation in pole-vaulting. What can be done more to get more involvement and participation? Do you think you would have excelled further and better if there’s more of a competition around?

I’m the only woman pole-vaulter competing for Singapore but not the only in Singapore. Pathetically, there are only 4 other girls doing pole vault.

In Singapore, track & field participation depends very much on the Schools’ system. The low women participation in pole vaulting could be attributed to girls’ pole vault not being competed in the National Schools’ Track & Field Championships.

I believed that I would definitely be able to vault much higher if I were to be in a better environment with many girls vaulting above 4m.

The pole vaulting scene must be a tight bunch since how few there are. Do you know all of the SEA Games pole vault finalist? Do you keep in touch, exchanging news, learning from each other, etc.?

I know all of them except for one new comer from Thailand. The rest of them were already in the scene at least 10 years ahead of me.

We don’t really keep in touch perhaps due to some language barriers. But we will see one another very often in regional competitions.

We don’t talk so much on pole-vaulting techniques because in pole vault, techniques can be very different according to each individual physique, speed and power.

Share with us the logistics on pole vaulting.

For the SEA Games, the transportation of the poles was paid by SNOC.

For local meets, we will have to transport the poles ourselves to the competition ground.

During competition period, on a weekly basis how often do you train? Share with us some of the stuff you do during training. Where is your training ground by the way?

During competition period, I will train everyday and rest one to two days before the competition depending on my condition.

Currently, I am training in Hwa Chong Institution.

What are your plans for the next season?

My main goal at the present moment is to recover well. I am doing intensive rehabilitation at the moment but it is going be a slow and long process.

Then, I will be focusing on qualifying for Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Actually, I have already met the Asian Games qualifying mark of 3.80m, but it was achieved before the qualifying period.

Goals and expectations for the next SEA Games 2011 in Indonesia? Will you still be pole vaulting then?

2011 is just next year, of course I will still be pole vaulting, and I will be targeting for the gold!

Rachel Yang with the rest of Team Singapore of SEA Games 2009 edition

Rachel Yang with the rest of Team Singapore of SEA Games 2009 edition

If there anything in your current pursuit for gold that needs changes or more support.

I would like to train in China. I think China can provide me with a very good environment. I was in Shanghai Sports School in 2002 for a pole vault conference and I really love the environment there. Everyone was so motivated and very disciplined. There is an indoor pole vault pit and some gymnastics apparatus so everyone can train regardless of rain or shine. This is what I need – an environment with good facilities and high calibre women pole vaulters that will spur me to improve further.

Rachel  Yang at the 18th Asian Athletics Championship held last year in November

Rachel Yang at the 18th Asian Athletics Championship held last year in November

Personal sponsorships would be vital to me as well. David and I have incurred massive credit card debts for me to get started in the sport and we are still financing it. We will not be able to pay for competitions or equipment on our own anymore as we are already drained financially.

What do you think can be done to improve the state of local athletics?

Sports administrators and whoever involve in one way or another should know every event inside out which regrettably is not the case now.

What are your opinion on the SSC/MCYS vs SAA spat and war of words?

I don’t really wish to comment about this issue, as I am just an athlete trying to achieve my goals and fulfill my dreams.


Thank you Rachel for your participation.

Please contact me using the below form if there’s any individual or corporate entity who wishes sponsor and be part of Rachel Yang sporting journey.

[contact-form 1 “Contact form 1”]

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Posted by Uncle Sha.
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