Close finishes aren’t a foreign concept to Phoebe Tay.

In 2017, Tay held on to win her first 800-metre title just 0.06s ahead of the runner-up. On a cloudless Monday morning at Choa Chu Kang Stadium, that difference wasn’t quite as close – she won in 2:31.98, just 0.33s ahead of silver medalist Vera Wah.

Nonetheless, it was the “most painful 100m” Tay had ever done. Her flailing form in the home stretch almost tripped her in the final 5m.

Said the 18-year-old, “I was just looking at the line and thinking, “Please let me get there before I fall.””

After collapsing in a heap at the finish line, Tay was escorted off in a wheelchair. Not the most glamorous of exits for someone who’d just accomplished an important season goal, but this scenario was already better than just a couple months ago when she was in the hospital.

Late last year, Tay was out for a month nursing neuronitis, an ear infection affecting the vestibular nerve. Besides affecting her balance, she also experienced throbbing headaches and constant nausea, sometimes requiring a trip to the hospital. Tay was often in a very weak state and unable to eat, much less train.

It was the most painful comeback she’d ever launched since an ITB issue three years ago.

“I really wanted to win because it’s my last individual event for national schools,” said Tay. “I trained really hard for it, so the pressure was on.”

Phoebe Tay goes to the ground after winning her second 800m National Schools title. She previously won the 800m in the ‘B’ Division in 2017. (Romaine Soh)

Tay first made headlines in 2015 when she struck double glory in the 1500m and 3000m as a 14-year-old. Subsequently, she switched to the two-lap event since her nagging ITB issue interrupted her training and affected her stamina. It also helped that Tay had a natural inclination towards speedwork.

“I’d rather have lactic than fatigue,” she said.

Despite the ups and downs in her athletic career, the last six years in the sport have been an integral part of Tay’s life. Having stuck with the same coach from Nan Hua High School through to Anglo Chinese Junior College, G Elangovan, he was there to provide encouragement – and scolding – whenever the occasion called for it.

“He doesn’t sugarcoat things. If I’m not putting in enough effort at training, he’ll tell me, “If you want it, you have to feel the pain.””

She felt the pain alright. Her flailing legs, strained facial expression and ending up in a wheelchair after crossing the finish line has that settled.

2019 National Schools Track and Field ‘A’ Division Girls 800m Results:

  1. Phoebe Tay Yu (ACJC) – 2:31.98
  2. Vera Wah Yi Rei (HCI) – 2:32.31
  3. Toh Pei Xuan (HCI) – 2:34.22
  4. Wong Wai Lin Amanda (VJC) – 2:35.57
  5. Klarisse Neo Man Ling (NJC) – 2:39.37
  6. Yeo Wen Yu Rebecca (RI) – 2:42.49
  7. Lee Yun En (VJC) – 2:44.39
  8. Lim Kai June (NJC) – 2:44.63
  9. Farjana Begum Binte Mohamed Aziz (CJC) – 2:45.77
  10. Pui Yee Tong (EJC) – 2:47.30
  11. Vanessa Sam (CJC) – 2:49.74
  12. Vicki Sam (ACJC) – 2:51.97
  13. Genevieve Ng An Teng (DHS) – 2:55.69
  14. Kang Tanya (HCI) – 2:57.22
  15. Tan Jerlyn (JPJC) – 2:58.39
  16. Tan Qin Xu (NUSHS) – 3:00.68

Missed our ‘A’ Division Boys 800m story? Selva won his first gold after six years in the sport, and learning the winner’s mindset was the key to his success, among other things.