He was not tapered or mentally conditioned for racing, but Quah Zheng Wen still posted a creditable showing on the opening day of the Neo Garden 13th Singapore National Swimming Championships last night.
The national swimmer clocked 1min 50.13sec in the 200m freestyle to shave 0.16sec off his own meet record of 1:50.29 set in 2013. It was his first race since returning home last month from the United States, where he has been primarily training in the short-course yards format typical of American collegiate racing.
While the time is not near his best - the 21-year-old typically posts sub-1:50 times for this event - it remained a showing that pleased both him and National Training Centre (NTC) head coach Gary Tan.
Said Quah, who wore a swimming cap that read "Cal" in a nod to the University of California, Berkeley, where he now studies and trains: "I'm pretty happy with how I swam.
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"Maybe it's not as fast as I wanted, but it's a decent time. Getting back into long-course racing after college swimming is always going to be hard. But getting the 200m (freestyle) out of the way will make everything so much easier."
He will be racing in the 100m free and 50m backstroke events today.
"It's nice just getting home... and just swimming like it used to be. It's pretty nice to come back to some familiarity," added Quah, who will be competing at the world championships in Budapest next month.
It was showings like Quah's, as well as promising results from several other NTC swimmers bound for the Aug 19-30 SEA Games that earned praise from Tan.
With the year's biggest events coming up over the next two months, NTC swimmers are not tapered for this event. Instead, they have worked hard to train through the meet, which continues until Sunday.
Said Tan: "The swimmers are completely not prepared for race conditions. In fact, in terms of fatigue level, on a scale of zero to 10 with 10 being the most tired state, they're probably at an eight or a nine. They've got to think about how to race in uncomfortable situations and I think they're doing a great job at that."
He gave credit to swimmers such as Quah Jing Wen (200m free) and Hoong En Qi (100m back), who still posted personal-best times of 2:03.10 and 1:04.57 respectively at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
Added Tan: "The focus at this meet is really for us to see how fast we can swim in a very tired state, while being pushed by some other South-east Asian swimmers."
Lionel Khoo got a taste of the competition he is likely to get, come August in the 200m breaststroke, where he was up against Thailand's Nuttapong Ketin.
The breaststroke specialist, who set a new national record in this event in March (2:15.27), clocked 2:17.89 to finish runner-up behind the Thai.
Nuttapong, a 2012 Olympian, did not compete at the last SEA Games after he tested positive for clenbuterol in May 2015. He was originally given a four-year ban, but it is understood the sanction was reduced to two years.
Said Khoo, 22: "I was mainly focusing on the execution (of the race) instead of results... but from what I felt, I think it was pretty good.
"What my rival is doing now is not important to me. I'm just focusing on myself and what I expect of myself. We can't underestimate our opponents - they all have a history of doing pretty well and are quite fast, but I think it should be an interesting fight come the SEA Games."