SINGAPORE - A mixture of teasing and affection proved to be the ideal source of motivation that fuelled all three Quah siblings to golden outings at the National Aquatic Centre last night.
Fittingly, it was eldest sister Ting Wen who led the way as she retained her 100m freestyle title in dramatic fashion.
The 25-year-old choked back tears after winning in 55.74 seconds, just 0.02sec faster than Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Anh Vien (55.76sec) and Jasmine Alkhaldi of the Philippines (55.90sec). It also lowered the meet record of 55.93sec she set in 2015.
About an hour later, Ting Wen topped another close race, winning the 50m butterfly final in 26.83sec, ahead of Thailand’s Jenjira Srisa-ard (26.94sec) and Alkhaldi (27.27sec).
The first person she embraced after emerging from the pool was her brother Zheng Wen. The 20-year-old was waiting along the corridor to swim the next event, the 200m backstroke.
“His first words to me was that I had a very bad touch (at the end),” she recalled with a laugh.
Ting Wen’s style of encouragement was more affectionate, according to youngest sister Jing Wen, 16.
“She said, ‘You’ve got this and I love you’,” confessed a grinning Jing Wen, who was swimming the anchor leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay and getting ready when Ting Wen, the second swimmer, walked up behind her.
The duo teamed up with Christie Chue, 17, and Rachel Tseng, 19, to win the 4x200m free relay in 8min 10.41sec, ahead of Thailand (8:16.17) and the Philippines (8:18.58). Their time erased the previous Games record of 8:11.75, set by Ting Wen, Amanda Lim, Lynette Lim and Mylene Ong in 2009.
Not to be outdone was Zheng Wen, who owned the 200m back meet record (2:00.55 set in 2015) and lowered it with last night’s effort of 2:00.09, ahead of team-mate Francis Fong (2:00.49) and Indonesia’s Ricky Anggawidjaja (2:02.76).
It was Zheng Wen’s third gold in Malaysia, tying Jing Wen. Ting Wen has four.
Zheng Wen said his sisters were “my rocks” and added: “(Ting Wen) had her ups and downs after college swimming and I’m happy to see her bounce back.
“I’m really proud of Jing Wen as well. Coming off 2015 (SEA Games, where she swam in only the 400m individual medley), she’s doing a lot more here and exceeding everyone’s expectations.”
The trio have been one another’s cornerstones throughout their respective swimming careers. Jing Wen said: “It’s good to have a familiar face training with you, pushing you to your limits.
“They say swimming is an individual sport but it’s not. All of us, the entire team, have been through so much together, many tough sets, 10 sessions a week. We’re one tight-knit family.”
Even United States-based Joseph Schooling can feel the camaraderie. The 22-year-old Olympic champion easily won the 100m butterfly in 51.38sec – the first sub-52sec swim at the biennial Games – ahead of Indonesians Triady Fauzi Sidiq (53.03sec) and Glenn Victor Sutanto (53.25sec).
It was Schooling’s third gold in Kuala Lumpur but far from his personal best of 50.39sec set at the Rio Olympics. He said: “Coming into this meet wasn’t about times. It was about the effort that I could give and mentoring the younger kids, being a good role model for them.”
Three finals in one day was a new gold standard for Ting Wen, who had never done it before and called it the “longest four hours I’ve had in a while”.
She added: “ It helps having people in the stands, coaches on the side. I can’t tell you how much it means when you look up into the stands, or just think about all the people supporting you.
“Especially when you’re behind the blocks, alone. But in your mind you know you have a bunch of people behind you.”