SINGAPORE: One is a coach who relentlessly pursued excellence for her team while battling stage IV cancer. The other is a marathoner, who in an act of sportsmanship, slowed down to guide his competitors who had missed a U-turn at the men’s marathon at the 28th SEA Games.
Next Thursday (Jun 23), both individuals will be honoured at the Singapore Sports Awards held at the Raffles City Convention Centre.
BATTLING THROUGH ILLNESS
The dedication shown by rhythmic gymnastics coach Zhu Xiaoping in helping her athletes win gold at the 28th SEA Games despite suffering from colon cancer, caught the eye of the Singapore Sports Awards (SSA) selection committee.
The 56-year-old has been coaching the rhythmic gymnastics athletes since 2007.
A few months before the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, the coach for the group all-around event resigned abruptly. Despite being in pain, Zhu stepped up to lead preparations for both the individual and team events. She had undergone surgery on her colon and liver three times in 2013 and 2014, and was receiving cancer treatment that drained her of strength.
“On some occasions, coaching the athletes would be trying for (Zhu)," said Janssen Ong, general manager of Singapore Gymnastics. "As she was receiving treatment, she couldn’t bear the heat at the non-air conditioned training facility with limited ventilation."
The award selection committee noted how Zhu worked tirelessly to ensure that her charges put on their best performance in front of the home crowd, despite knowing that taking on one more major responsibility was going to take a toll on her health.
The committee noted that Zhu also had to play the role of a motivator when it looked as though the group all-around event might be dropped from the Games due to insufficient entries.
Ann Sim, who is one of the five rhythmic gymnasts on the national team, said: “Coach Zhu comforted us and encouraged us to focus on training and to aim beyond the SEA Games.
"She has a very strong will and sense of responsibility. Besides coaching us in our sport, she often teaches us lessons in life."
Zhu's sacrifice and persistence paid off, as the team eventually won the group all-round competition at the 2015 SEA Games, a first for Singapore in the category in a major event.
"My work is driven by the passion I have for gymnastics, the athletes and my love for Singapore," said Zhu, who is married to Lin Zhenqiu, former national coach of the men’s artistic gymnastics team.
"I hope this recognition will bring more attention to the work sports coaches do and inspire them."
The rhythmic gymnastics trainer suffered a relapse of cancer recently and will be undergoing a new round of treatment in late June.
Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin, who heads the selection panel for the SSA awards, reserved special mention for coach Zhu, who will receive the Special Award for Fortitude.
After visiting Zhu at her home Friday (Jun 17) morning, Mr Tan said: “In the pursuit of sports excellence, it is often our athletes and not the people behind the scenes in the limelight."
He added: "She put her athletes and Singapore Gymnastics’ interests above her own health and served selflessly to help them prepare for the 28th SEA Games. Her dedication to sport is admirable. "
POINTING RIVALS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
He found himself in the lead 5.5km through the 2015 SEA Games marathon. Yet national marathoner Ashley Liew knew something was not right when the leading pack he was in was nowhere to be seen.
Instead of taking advantage of the error and gaining on his new lead, Ashley gave up his 50m lead, slowing down and waiting for the lead pack of runners to catch up.
With his act of sportsmanship, Ashley effectively reduced his own chances of obtaining a medal position, which had been within grasp. The recorded personal best timings of the runners showed that Ashley had had a reasonable shot at attaining a podium finish, especially as the race was on home ground.
"Until today, I maintain that what transpired was not extraordinary. I would do it again in a heartbeat in a similar situation," said Liew.
"My takeaway since has been twofold. Firstly, a little goes a long way; others may see the value in a seemingly insignificant behaviour."
He added: "Secondly, achievements are secondary to character; hardwired values prompt the necessary actions in response to any situation.
"With that, it is my hope amidst our fast paced society that we continue cherishing values above achievements."
The 28-year-old will not be able to collect his Special Award for Sportsmanship in person, as he is currently pursuing his post-graduate studies at the Sherman College of Chiropractic in South Carolina, USA.