Big Ben's proud of his regional links

Britain's Ben Proud is elated after his 50m butterfly win on Monday, and is going for a double in the 50m freestyle on Friday.
Britain's Ben Proud is elated after his 50m butterfly win on Monday, and is going for a double in the 50m freestyle on Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUDAPEST • The swimming pools in Singapore helped mould two finalists in the 50m butterfly final at the swimming World Championships on Monday.

While Singapore's Olympic 100m fly champion Joseph Schooling finished fifth in the race, the other - Britain's Ben Proud - clinched the gold medal.

The London-born 22-year-old is actually a Swimfast Aquatic Club alumni, just like Schooling. He grew up in Kuala Lumpur where he lived for 16 years, and spent his summer holidays across the Causeway training at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), where the Swimfast school is located.

Proud told The Straits Times: "I spent my childhood in Malaysia and when I started swimming, I made many trips to Singapore to train and compete in meets.

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"There are quite a lot of memories there and that part of the world holds a special place in my heart."

Swimfast founder, former national swimmer David Lim, described Proud as soft-spoken and polite, and joked that "there was nothing proud about him".

"He showed a lot of potential in the freestyle and butterfly sprints and his times were very good for a boy of his age," Lim recalled.

A young Proud, he added, was nowhere the 1.91m, 92kg physical specimen he is now.

A YOUNG FOODIE

Sweet and sour chicken, the Chinese food at the hawker centres and roti canai.

BEN PROUD, on the local food he enjoyed when living in Malaysia.

The Briton made full use of that height and power at Budapest's Danube Arena, defeating the likes of Schooling, rising American star Caeleb Dressel and veteran sprint specialist Nicholas Santos of Brazil.

Schooling said: "Hats off to Ben, 22.7sec... That's one of the fastest world champs we have seen in a while."

It was also the second time in a major meet that Proud has beaten Schooling in the 50m fly. The pair faced off at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Proud also won gold then - Schooling finished seventh - and added another in the 50m freestyle.

Proud returned to England in 2011, when he enrolled at Plymouth College. He is now based in Belek, Turkey and trains with the Energy Standard International Swim Club, founded by Ukrainian-born billionaire Konstantin Grigorishin .

Despite his globe-trotting ways, Proud's South-east Asian roots are evident. Asked what are some of his fondest childhood memories, he replied without hesitation: "Sweet and sour chicken, the Chinese food at the hawker centres and roti canai."

Aside from local delights, he also gave credit to Francis Kiu, his former teacher at Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, who inspired him.

He said: "The only reason I'm standing here is because of my first coach, Francis Kiu. He was the one who really planted this dream in me. And ever since then I've had the vision of coming to the world championships and winning the 50m fly, like I've just done."

Kiu would have been pleased with his former pupil's achievements. Proud's winning time of 22.75 seconds rewrote his own British record (22.80) and is the third-fastest time in history in a textile suit. Santos' 22.51 remains the mark to beat.

Proud will look to cement his new-found status as the planet's fastest man in water when he competes in the 50m free on Friday.

The 21.32 he posted at April's British Championships is the quickest this year and a personal best.

Proud said: "The 50m fly is the one I've always dreamt of. The 50m free is the one I've always trained for."

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Big Ben's proud of his regional links'. Print Edition | Subscribe