August winner: Constance Lien

ST Star of the Month: Constance Lien, 19, aiming to make a bigger splash

The Straits Times' sports editor Lee Yulin (left) and Jennifer See (right), general manager of F&N Foods, presenting the ST Star of the Month August award to Yuen Shuang Ching and Walter Lien, who were present on behalf of daughter Constance, the Asi
The Straits Times' sports editor Lee Yulin (left) and Jennifer See (right), general manager of F&N Foods, presenting the ST Star of the Month August award to Yuen Shuang Ching and Walter Lien, who were present on behalf of daughter Constance, the Asian Games ju-jitsu silver medallist.ST PHOTOS: SYAMIL SAPARI, KEVIN LIM
The Straits Times' sports editor Lee Yulin and Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods, presenting the ST Star of the Month August award to Yuen Shuang Ching and Walter Lien, who were present on behalf of daughter Constance, the Asian Games ju-jitsu si
The Straits Times' sports editor Lee Yulin and Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods, presenting the ST Star of the Month August award to Yuen Shuang Ching and Walter Lien, who were present on behalf of daughter Constance, the Asian Games ju-jitsu silver medallist.ST PHOTOS: SYAMIL SAPARI, KEVIN LIM

Teen breaks ground with Asiad ju-jitsu silver, will train full-time for world c'ships

Three years ago, Constance Lien's desire to win a medal for Singapore at a major Games had looked dead in the water.

The former swimmer, who had competed at the 2013 Fina World Cup and roomed with swim queen Tao Li, suffered stagnating times.

But Constance, with determination and hard work, fought her way back to earn a second chance, and achieved what few athletes have - international success in one sport after plateauing in another.

At the recently concluded Asian Games, the ju-jitsu exponent won silver in the women's Under-62kg event.

The sport was making its Asiad debut and the 19-year-old will go down in history as Singapore's first ju-jitsu medallist at a major Games.

The successful transformation has landed her The Straits Times Star of the Month award, backed by F&N's 100Plus, for August.

Her parents, former national swimmer Yuen Shuang Ching and Walter Lien, accepted the award on behalf of their daughter, who is competing in Japan.

SHE GETS THE KICKS

After watching some videos, I became interested in martial arts as I felt it could be very empowering. I'm very blessed to do a sport now where I don't need my mother to chase me to go training.

CONSTANCE LIEN, on peaking in swimming before switching.

Said ST sports editor Lee Yulin: "We are delighted to recognise Constance as the first ju-jitsu winner of this award and we hope she will continue breaking new ground both for herself and for Singapore."

Constance, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, has already set her sights on going one better at the next Asiad in Hangzhou, China. But first, she is gunning for a world title.

The Temasek Polytechnic student told ST in a phone interview: "I want to be a world champion. I was fourth at the 2017 Abu Dhabi World Championships, and I'm aiming to win at the World International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championships in Los Angeles next year."

To focus on training, she will be taking a gap year after graduating from the polytechnic.

"It has been really stressful to balance sport and studies," she added.

However, she will go back to her books after the World Championships.

"I'm aiming to study psychology at the Singapore Management University as I would like to become a sports or child psychologist or counsellor," she explained.

For now, she will persevere with a punishing regimen that sees her train twice or thrice a day, and about 25 hours a week as she spars and hones her technique.

Bruises and physical pain are par for the course, and unlike swimming, she has to worry about making weight and think constantly about how to master various techniques to improve her ground game.

For example, the Asiad had just two women's categories, U-49kg and U-62kg. Her normal weight is about 55kg, and she usually competes in the U-58.5kg. For the Games in Indonesia, she opted for the U-62kg, which meant she was up against bigger opponents.

Yet she soldiers on, saying: "As a swimmer, I had peaked a couple of times but I couldn't understand what happened when I started to stagnate when I was 16.

"I lost passion and was unhappy but I could not just stop swimming because I was on a Singapore Sports School scholarship then.

"After watching some videos, I became interested in martial arts as I felt it could be very empowering. I'm very blessed to do a sport now where I don't need my mother to chase me to go to training."

However, despite managing to convince her mother to agree to her participation in a combat sport, Constance revealed that she is unlikely to turn professional.

"It already took a lot of convincing for me to get involved with ju-jitsu, and my parents will not allow me to go into MMA," she said. "But that's OK. I'm happy with what I have now and ju-jitsu is a sport I can practise for many more years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Aiming to make a bigger splash'. Print Edition | Subscribe