Chong Wei nails top athlete award ahead of All-England

Top choice: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) presenting the Best Athlete award to Lee Chong Wei during the 100PLUS-SAM awards ceremony while Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin looks on. — M. AZHAR ARIF / The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: Lee Chong Wei has received a timely boost ahead of his 13th All-England campaign in Birmingham from March 7-12.

Yesterday, the world No. 1 men’s singles shuttler was named winner of the 100PLUS-Sportswriters Association of Malaysia (SAM) Best Athlete for 2016.

The 34-year-old beat six other nominees – Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong (badminton), Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (badminton), Mohd Al-Jufri Jamari (silat), Pandelela Rinong-Cheong Jun Hoong (diving), Azizulhasni Awang (cycling) and Khairul Idham Pawi (Moto3) – to the RM10,000 top prize. He also received a trophy from Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

It was Chong Wei’s second SAM award, having won it in 2008.

Last year, Chong Wei made a spectacular comeback to regain the world No. 1 spot after an eight-month ban due to a doping violation.

He continued his form by beating nemesis Lin Dan of China in the semi-finals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He, however, lost to Chen Long of China in the final. It was Chong Wei’s third Olympic silver.

Chong Wei’s determination to fight back for the top spot despite the adversities and personal challenges won the hearts of the award judges.

Chong Wei said the award was the right tonic to boost his confidence after picking up a knee injury on Feb 4.

“This award could not have come at a better time. The past weeks have been difficult for me. Trying to come back from my injury is not easy,” said the father of two.

“It’s an honour to be recognised for last year’s achievements. I can’t believe how I managed to go through it. 2016 will always be special.

“Now, I’ll be going to my last All-England more motivated and fired up.

“I’m not thinking of winning right now. My focus is to play with confidence from the first match onwards. I do want my final appearance in my favourite tournament to be a memorable one,” added the three-time All-England champion.

Chong Wei is in the same half of the draw as fourth seed Son Wan-ho of South Korea and Chen Long.

Defending champion Lin Dan, the sixth seed, is in the lower half with Danes Jan O Jorgensen, the second seed, and Viktor Axelsen.

Yesterday was also a special day for Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi. He won the best Paralympic athlete award for winning the Olympic gold in the 100m T36 (cerebral palsy) event. He also won a gold at the China Open.

The National Silat Federation (Pesaka) were adjudged the Most Dynamic Association for producing winners in every international tournament they competed in last year.

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