Samantha Yom: Singapore’s First Youth Olympic Games Gold Medalist On Her Journey

"It was all about being in the right place at the right time"

By Camillia Dass

July 17 2018

Samantha Yom,19, was only seven years old when she was first introduced to the world of sailing. Since then, Samantha has gone on to win numerous medals and titles including Singapore’s first gold medal in the Youth Olympic Games 2014.

Samantha started sailing when she was only in Primary One. A classmate’s sister, who was sailing herself, invited her class to try it out after the school decided that they needed more sailors.

“My primary school was looking for more female sailors and it just so happened that I was tall and a girl so I ended up on the team.” Samantha said with a laugh.

When she was in Primary Three, Samantha started properly racing. She joined the Optimist Club at the Singapore Sailing Federation after getting her accreditation and continued to do well.

However, when was in Primary Six, Samantha was kicked out of the team because she was not performing as well in the sport as she used to.

Samantha, undeterred  refused to let that stop her and she worked hard till she was reinstated back on the team in Secondary 1.

Shortly after this, Samantha qualified for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

“I was so surprised. I didn't expect to qualify and honestly, I was just grateful to be attending it. I didn't even consider the possibility of winning.”

During the competition, Samantha credited the lighter conditions in China to her success.

“The conditions in Singapore waters are quite light so we do well in lighter conditions. While we were there, the conditions favoured us over the Europeans who are used to much harsher conditions.”

In the end, while skill played a huge role in her success, Samantha believes that a stroke of luck led to her glorious win.

“It was the final race and there was another girl who was ahead of me. However she made a mistake and I was able to overtake her. The difference in our points was what led me to that win,” Samantha said of her win which also marked Singapore’s first Youth Olympic Gold medal.

Samantha also spoke about the sacrifices she had to make to achieve her sailing dreams.

“I train six times a week so I don’t have time for much else. Eventually I had to give up ballet which I loved a lot because I was afraid of hurting my feet and not being able to train properly. Plus I had no time.”

While Samantha has had to make many sacrifices for sailing, there are still many things she refuses to compromise on. Things like her education.

“I used to always play the catch up game in school because of sailing but I got really interested in studying when I was in junior college.” Samantha said after admitting that she pulled out of the 2017 SEA Games trials because the games came too close to her A Levels.

This year, while Samantha is not as active as she used to be in sailing, she has taken up an internship at The Singapore Sailing Federation.

She has also put her talents to good use by building the world’s first sailing AI chatbot this year.

The chatbot, which is affectionately called ‘Sammy’, provides sailors and parents with real-time weather conditions, wind data and results.

“Being able to get wind, weather and regatta information on demand is useful because it helps sailors anticipate the racing conditions at sea, making them better prepared for their races. It’s also useful in planning training sessions,” explained Samantha.

The chatbot has thus far been a success and has proved very useful to sailors and parents. In fact, during a five day regatta, 273 chatbot users exchanged over 23,000 messages with Sammy. This amount clocked over 42 hours of chat time.

This year, Samantha will be pursuing a double degree in psychology and linguistics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

She will also be branching out and starting to sail a slightly bigger boat with two other sailors.

“I’m getting quite tired of sailing alone,” Samantha laughed.

When asked what her favourite part of sailing was, the sailor smiled and simply said that it was the joy of just being out on the water.

“I love the feeling of just being out there in the elements and being in control. That’s my favourite feeling.”

Photo Credits: Samantha Yom