ST Young Star of the month: B Division swim champ Ardi Zulhilmi aims to make splash at SEA Games

16-year-old Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman first represented Singapore at the Asean School Games last year and will be competing in this year's edition in Semarang, Indonesia in July. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - In his free time, Ardi Zulhilmi Mohamed Azman watches videos of swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Joseph Schooling and after meets, he watches videos of himself to reflect on what he did well and what he can improve on.

"Watching world-class swimmers inspires me because I want to improve myself and be like them," the 16-year-old Outram Secondary student told The Straits Times.

"The way Michael Phelps swims motivates me because he never gives up. Even when he's ahead, he wants to be further in front of his competitors, so I try to channel him in the pool."

The Olympic great's never-say-die spirit certainly helped Ardi at the Schools National Swimming Championships in April, when he suddenly felt ill and vomited at the 800m mark in the B Division boys' 1,500m freestyle final.

But he remained calm, persevered and eventually won the gold in 16min 41.05sec.

Ardi recalled: "I didn't want to let that affect my race plan so I stuck to it and just focused on maintaining my timing every 50m.

"I also saw my nearest competitor trying to catch up and I decided to endure it because I didn't want to give up and live my life with regrets."

Ardi also won the 200m individual medley gold three days later in a new PB of 2:10.65, about two seconds faster than his previous PB.

For overcoming the setback, Ardi has been named The Straits Times' Young Star of the Month, an award backed by 100Plus and given to school athletes who have shone during the National School Games this year.

Said ST sports editor Lee Yulin: "Ardi's courage in persevering despite being unwell during his race epitomises everything this award stands for. We salute him for his determination."

Ardi credited his coach Roderick Eng's guidance, and also highlighted the support from his family, such as his mother, who ferries him and his two brothers between training and school by car and prepares meals for them.

He said: "They all motivate me to keep on going and it's with their support that I can go even further."

Ardi is aiming further - he first represented Singapore at the Asean School Games in Selangor, Malaysia, last year and will be competing in this year's edition in Semarang, Indonesia in July.

He has also set his sights on the year-end SEA Games in the Philippines, although he knows his current 1,500m freestyle PB of 16:25.64 is some way off the 15:28.69 qualifying time for this year's SEA Games.

Ahead of June's Singapore National Swimming Championships, a SEA Games qualifying meet, Ardi is training eight times a week with his club, Aquarian Aquatic School, while juggling schoolwork.

He also regularly consults his coach Eng, 33, on ways to improve his technique and fitness.

Eng, who has been coaching Ardi since 2016, praised his trainee for his focus and "thirst for information".

He said: "Ardi is always thinking about swimming and that's important because there's a thirst to improve.

"He can go far and he's on his way to meeting his goal of representing Singapore in senior meets. He's still learning and there's still room for improvement but he knows what he wants and really goes for it."

Ardi hopes to make the SEA Games cut at the Singapore Nationals, and added: "I hope I'll at least get a podium finish in Indonesia... I want to try and get more experience at international meets and feel the atmosphere of the crowd when I'm swimming there."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.