Mixed martial arts: Ex-national swimmer May Ooi aims for Asiad gold in jujitsu

Former national swimmer May Ooi is targeting a gold medal tilt at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia, having successfully made the transition to mixed martial arts.
Former national swimmer May Ooi is targeting a gold medal tilt at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia, having successfully made the transition to mixed martial arts. PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLAS KONIALIDIS

Ex-swimmer seeks return to stage 28 years after debut, this time on the mat if selected

Nearly three decades after making her Asian Games debut as a precocious teenage swimmer in 1990, May Ooi could return in August to the continent's biggest multi-sport competition.

But instead of a swimsuit, the 41-year-old will be donning a "gi" - the traditional attire used in jujitsu.

The Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia will see the debut of several combat sports like jujitsu, pencak silat, kurash and sambo.

Ooi, who competed in swimming at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, retired from the sport in 2001. Her interest in martial arts started in 2009 when she picked up capoeira, a Brazilian discipline which disguises its strikes through dance, while she earned a medical degree at Prague's Charles University.

She started jujitsu about five years ago and is now a professional mixed martial arts fighter. In July, she joined Singapore-based promoter One Championship's stable of fighters and has since won both her fights. She has an overall professional record of four wins and two losses dating back to 2014.

She won gold in the blue-belt master (born before 1987) Under-64kg category at the Asian Jujitsu Championship in Tokyo in September.

When asked what motivated her to target a gold medal in Indonesia, she told The Straits Times yesterday: "It's uncharted waters but it is not impossible just because it has never been done.


Former national swimmer May Ooi is targeting a gold medal tilt at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia, having successfully made the transition to mixed martial arts. PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLAS KONIALIDIS

"I'm naturally a highly-motivated person, and my driving force is evolution and wanting to better myself every day.

"Some go back to school, some pick up hobbies... this is what I choose.

"The opportunity is there, I believe (my) skill is there and my experience competing in combat sports is there, with two wins in One Championship, with an Asian Open gold in between."

Her path to qualifying for the Asiad is uncertain though. The Jujitsu Association of Singapore (JJAS) is not officially recognised as a national sports association (NSA).

A Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) spokesman said: "No athlete has participated in SNOC-sanctioned games without an NSA. The SNOC and SSI (Singapore Sport Institute) are discussing with various parties on suitable arrangements for sports which do not fall under any NSAs on their participation for the upcoming Asian Games."

To be nominated for selection by the SNOC for the Asiad, athletes have to match the sixth-placed mark or beat the sixth-ranked team from the previous Games.

But as jujitsu is being featured for the first time, there is no clear benchmark to meet.

Ooi was confident her recent win in Japan will sway the selectors.

She also turned down a fight at One Championship's live event in Jakarta on Jan 20 because she wanted to focus on a national trial, originally scheduled for Jan 27.

"There are little (international) jujitsu competitions here and there, but the Asian Open is the biggest and most prestigious in Asia," she said.

Dr Kothagoda Henry, JJAS president added: "The SNOC have informed us that the only qualifying events they will accept are equivalents to the Asian Games, like the Asian Championship.

"So, we will collect the applications of all the athletes who wish to compete at the Asian Games, and sift through the people who meet what they want.

IN MY LOCKER

It's uncharted waters but it is not impossible. The opportunity is there, I believe (my) skill is there and my experience competing in combat sports is there.''

MAY OOI, One Championship mixed martial arts fighter, believes she has all the tools of the trade to go for the Asiad jujitsu gold.

"Four or five people did well at the Asian Championship and we are hoping for the best, where we can send a group of athletes. But at the end of the day, we can only recommend the names and SNOC will select."

  • S'POREANS WHO COMPETED IN MORE THAN ONE SPORT


    SARVINDER SINGH

    Weightlifting: 1981*, 1983

    Athletics: 1983

    PATRICK WEE

    Football: 1983

    Bowling: 1985, 1987, 1993

    EILEEN CHAI

    Gymnastics: 1991

    Athletics: 1993

    Diving: 1995

    BERNADETTE LEE

    Swimming: 2003, 2005

    Fencing: 2017

    MOK YING REN

    Triathlon: 2007

    Marathon: 2013, 2017

    LANCE TAN

    Athletics: 2011, 2013, 2015

    Cycling: 2017

    *All years denote SEA Games

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2018, with the headline 'Ooi aims for Asiad gold in jujitsu'. Print Edition | Subscribe