2015 swim squad a class apart after record 23-gold haul

Besides stars like Schooling and Tao, team effort reels in record 23 golds

AFTER six days of racing, the Class of 2015 staked their claim as the greatest SEA Games swim team of all time in the best possible way - by winning an all-time high of 23 golds.

With that, Joseph Schooling and Co eclipsed the record of 21 golds, achieved on home soil at the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games.

The joy in the air was palpable, and best typified by Tao Li's win in the 100m butterfly, which gave the team gold No. 22.

After outsprinting her competitors to make it five golds in five events, Tao clenched her fists and slapped the water repeatedly, the same way her team-mates pounded the 21-gold mark into oblivion.

Said Tao: "After I touched the wall, I felt a release. I proved myself that I'm still there and I'm still butterfly (champion) and nobody can touch me in South-east Asia. The timing was not important, I just have to win the gold."

Ex-national swimmer Patricia Chan, who was in the stands, said the medal count spoke for itself.

Said Chan, who was part of the 1973 vintage team: "History rewritten. Medal haul beyond expectation. Amazing final night, and I'm very proud of all our swimmers who made this Games unforgettable. I'm honoured to have witnessed and been a part of it."

Besides Tao's win, Amanda Lim also added a gold in the 50m freestyle, touching home in a Games record time of 25.59sec.

Quah Zheng Wen completed a sweep of all backstroke events, winning the 50m backstroke in a Games and national record of 25.27.

He then led off the men's 4x100m medley relay team, also featuring Lionel Khoo, Joseph Schooling and Clement Lim, to a new national and Games mark of 3min 38.25sec.

The swimming competition also saw Schooling cement his status as the region's swim king as he made it two successive perfect meets.

The University of Texas student had six golds from six races in 2013, but upped the ante this year with a perfect nine wins in nine. Said Schooling: "It's one of my most tiring meets. I'm happy to have reached my target, and I can finally sleep soundly tonight."

Amid the euphoria, national coach Sergio Lopez was a picture of calm in the mixed zone, as he watched his charges indulge autograph hunters.

The 46-year-old, who was appointed in January, said there was more to come from Singapore's swimmers.

He said: "This is a good generation, and we were the best team of the meet. We've taken a big step forward, but we can't say our job is done. We have a lot of good kids coming up, and our next assignment starts from next week, to prepare for the junior worlds in August."

On his history-making team-mates, Schooling said: "I think we just have a lot of talent. The results speak for themselves. We're better than previous teams and I think that's a really good step for Singapore swimming.

"It's also got to do with coaching and training methods. Bringing Sergio was one of the best moves or best move Singapore swimming has done."

The swimmers were unequivocal about the reason behind their landmark achievement - an unbreakable bond forged over the past few months.

Said Tao: "The team spirit is really, really good. It's the best we have. I've been to so many SEA Games, there's none like this."

Quah Ting Wen, who has four golds from 10 events, said: "I think that's the way for us to succeed, to have everyone on the same page and same goal, almost like one mind together."

siangyee@sph.com.sg