BJJ fighter Constance Lien is the ST Athlete of the Year, Outram swimmer Ardi wins Young Athlete award

Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponent Constance Lien was named The Straits Times Athlete of the Year while the ST Young Athlete of the Year award went to Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman. PHOTOS: ST FILE, DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponent Constance Lien struck a blow for martial arts athletes when she was named The Straits Times Athlete of the Year on Wednesday (Feb 26).

It is the first time the award, which was launched in 2008 and is backed by F&N's 100Plus, has had a winner from a combat sport. It is given to inspiring athletes who have surpassed all expectations and connected with Singaporeans not only because they won but also because they did much more.

Last year, Lien became the first Singaporean to be crowned the blue belt featherweight BJJ world champion and SEA Games jiu-jitsu gold medallist.

She was recognised not only for her trailblazing achievements, but also for her grit and determination as she refused to give up during her world championship bouts against Brazilians Jaine da Silva Fragoso and Julia de Jesus Alves despite being almost beaten by them.

Her dominant performance during the SEA Games belies the fact that jiu-jitsu, according to Singapore team manager May Ooi, is "not even a national sports association yet" and has "zero funding".

Lien beat four other worthy nominees:

- Billiards world champion Peter Gilchrist;

- Jonathan Chan, the first Singaporean diver to qualify for the Olympics;

- Yip Pin Xiu, a two-gold winner at the World Para Swimming Championships; and

- Cherie Tan, the first Singaporean to win the Masters title at the World Bowling Women's Championships who also became the first Asian to bag the Professional Women's Bowling Association Players Championship. She also claimed a SEA Games team gold medal and the Storm-Domino's Pizza Cup.

Lien was recognised not only for her trailblazing achievements, but also for her grit and determination. PHOTO: ST FILE

ST sports editor Lee Yulin, who headed a panel of seven judges who included sprint legend C. Kunalan, Asian sailing champion Yukie Yokoyama and former table tennis player Isabelle Li, said: "The panel of judges had to consider no fewer than four world champions in the field. But when we looked at who proved most inspiring, Constance just edged it."

The ST Young Athlete of the Year award went to Outram Secondary's Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman. He is the first swimmer to win the prize, which is now in its third year.

Ardi was feted for his perseverance in the B Division boys' 1,500m final at last April's Schools National Swimming Championships. Then, he fell ill midway through the race and vomited at the 800m mark. But instead of stopping, he continued racing and eventually claimed the gold medal.

The ST Young Athlete of the Year award is also backed by 100Plus and given to school athletes who have performed well at the National School Games.

Both awards were to have been given out before 200 guests at a lunch ceremony on Wednesday, but the event was postponed owing to the Coronavirus situation. It is due to be held in the second half of the year.

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