CLARK, PHILIPPINES - Eyes tightly shut as she sat in the stands and prayed, Yuen Shuang Ching only opened them when she knew her daughter Constance Lien had beaten her Vietnamese opponent to clinch gold in the SEA Games women’s jiu-jitsu ne-waza Under-62kg on Tuesday (Dec 10).
And then she beamed, because life had come full circle for the 50-year-old former national swimmer.
At the 1981 SEA Games in Manila, Yuen was 13 when she made her debut in the women’s 100m breaststroke. She did not win a medal, but her teammate and childhood rival Christina Tham did in the 4x100m medley. Tham, who is also 50, made headlines last week after she won two golds in underwater hockey – 38 years after her first Games medal in swimming.
Like Tham, Yuen retired from swimming and did not get an opportunity to compete in another Games. But the Lien family now have a newly-minted Games winner in their eldest daughter, over three decades after Yuen first competed here in the Philippines.
“I am just very proud of her, not for her winning the medal but for her fighting spirit and resilience,” Yuen told The Straits Times.
The mother of two admitted she was initially apprehensive about Lien switching from swimming to jiu-jitsu as she was afraid that she would get hurt.
“In the beginning I was very frightened for her because it’s a combat sport, but I was impressed by the fire in her and I can see her passion... all I want to do is support her and help her fulfil her dreams.”
That fire was clearly evident in Lien’s bout against Vietnam’s Nguyen Ngoc Tu at the LausGroup Event Centre yesterday, as she executed a sweep early in the match before piling the pressure onto her rival and closed out the victory by submission with a bow and arrow choke.
Pointing skywards before dropping to her knees after her win, the 20-year-old said yesterday: “I wasn’t really thinking during my bout, I knew I had to go get work done, execute everything I’ve trained for.
“I’m feeling very blessed, this time my training camp was very tough but I’m so thankful that my family, friends, teammates, my association and coaches at Evolve really helped me through it. This is my final goal of the year after the worlds and winning the gold really means a lot to me.”
Lien has been the athlete to watch after an impressive debut at the Asian Games last year, where she won a silver in the same category, an achievement that earned her The Straits Times Star of the Month accolade. In May, she was crowned world champion at the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Championships.
Evolve mixed martial arts instructor and national coach Teco Shinzato said: “I truly believe she has the potential to be a black belt world champion someday. She has a lot to be proud of and I believe she will lead the charge and take jiu-jitsu to new levels for women in the sport in Asia.”
Lien’s compatriots Kwan Yan Wei and Fiona Toh yesterday clinched bronzes in the men’s U-77kg and women’s U-55kg events respectively to take Singapore’s medal tally to two gold, a silver and four bronze medals.
With seven out of the nine-strong squad earning medals at the Games, team manager and former national swimmer May Ooi said the team’s performance will be a huge boost and noted: “We are not even a national sports association yet, we have zero funding. If you compare us with sports like track and field, football, rugby and sailing, some of the traditional sports, we are coming home with seven medals, two gold.
“That’s massive, this makes a huge statement for the sport of jiu-jitsu. The sport has a long way to grow and all we need is a good developmental plan for our grassroots. We created that pathway for them so the first step is the SEA Games and then the Asian Games.”