Nominee #1: Peter Gilchrist (billiards)

ST Athlete of the Year: Mending a broken heart

Sport is a lonely, unforgiving venture. Much of what is witnessed are triumphs and rarely the hardships. In honouring the five nominees for the 2016 ST Athlete of the Year award, we discover how these exceptional competitors overcame some of their toughest moments. Fifth world title offers small comfort after loss of mum

The final weeks of 2016 closed on a celebratory note for Peter Gilchrist as he returned to his parents' residence in Middlesbrough, England, for Christmas with his fifth billiards world championship trophy.

But the homecoming was a bittersweet one as the house felt somewhat vacant with only his father, Frank, around. His mother, Margaret, had succumbed to cancer in May. Gilchrist said: "That was the worst moment of my life. Nothing compares to it."

Family matters continued to plague Gilchrist, who became a Singapore citizen in 2006. He could not get a long-term visa for Ysabel, his three-year-old daughter born in the Philippines, to come to Singapore and had to leave her with his two sisters back in England.

Gilchrist said: "I've applied many times for a permit but it keeps getting rejected by the authorities. It's tough and frustrating not being able to spend more time with her."

When confronted by adversity, it can feel impossible to rediscover will and find strength but that is what Gilchrist had to do and did.

The 48-year-old, who picked up the sport at the age of 12 after his parents bought him a small snooker table for Christmas, threw himself back into training and competition.

He won last September's Auckland Open and New Zealand Open before a dip in form a month later with three quarter-final losses in tournaments in Leeds.

That stumble proved momentary when he triumphed at last month's IBSF World Billiards Championships in Bangalore, India. He also won in 1994, 2001, 2013 and 2015.

Such durability is a testament to the 2014 Singapore Sportsman of the Year's qualities as a world-class athlete, noted Cuesports Singapore president Christopher Chuah.

"What Peter has achieved warrants recognition," he added. "To reach the top in the world is really something. It's not a one-off, he's not a flash in the pan."

Gilchrist, a former world No. 1, is now ranked second, behind England's David Causier who is within his sights. As is ending an unwanted record at the SEA Games.

While he is a four-time Games champion in billiards singles (2009-2015), Gilchrist has never won gold in the doubles.

The Aug 19-31 Games in Kuala Lumpur could not come soon enough for him. He said: "I really want to win the doubles. It would mean so much more to me than another singles gold."

This fire can be traced back almost 30 years to when he lost in the 1989 world championship final.

Gilchrist said: "I just hate to lose. Part of me is glad billiards isn't at the Olympics. Imagine losing and having to wait four years for another chance. I would go crazy."

Cuesports Singapore assistant honorary secretary Victor Yeong, who occasionally spars with Gilchrist at the Singapore Recreation Club, has witnessed evidence of this competitive streak. He said: "If we play 20 matches, Peter wants to win all 20. He won't even think of letting me win once."

Defying the pages of a calendar might be a losing battle but Gilchrist is not ready to retire any time soon. He said: "Given what I've achieved, there's less pressure on me but I want to win more world championships, more gold medals at the SEA Games and hopefully the Asian Games (he has two bronzes from 2006 and 2010).

"I've still got about 10 more good years left in me and I want to make the most of it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 15, 2017, with the headline 'Mending a broken heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe