Swimmer Quah Zheng Wen allowed to defer NS to prepare for Rio Olympics 2016

Singapore's Quah Zheng Wen celebrating after he won the gold medal for the men's 50m backstroke final during the 28th SEA Games, held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, on June 11, 2015.
Singapore's Quah Zheng Wen celebrating after he won the gold medal for the men's 50m backstroke final during the 28th SEA Games, held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, on June 11, 2015. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE - Swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, the most bemedalled athlete from the recent SEA Games, can now focus on next year's Olympic Games after the Defence Ministry granted his request to defer full-time National Service.

Mindef said in a statement on Tuesday that the 19-year-old, who is due to enlist this month, will enlist after Aug 31 next year.

"I am very happy to have been granted deferment. I am grateful for this opportunity and honoured to be able to represent Singapore at the Olympics in 2016. It's every athlete's dream to represent their nation at the largest multi-sport event in the world, and I'm hoping to do my family, friends and country proud in Rio," said Quah, who won 12 medals at the SEA Games.

The ministry said that the Armed Forces Council, chaired by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, reviewed Quah's application for NS deferment, adding that he "has satisfied the conditions for deferment of exceptional sportsmen who can win honour for Singapore, as his recent performances were better than the most recent Olympic Games' qualifying times in the 200m butterfly".

It added that Quah's application included his training schedule and targets, with the goal to represent Singapore and compete successfully in the swimming competition at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Quah had met the Olympic 'A' time of 1min 56.97sec for the 200m fly, which qualifies him for an automatic spot in Rio.

He is the second athlete to be granted long-term deferment till next August. The Republic's top swimmer Joseph Schooling, who bagged nine gold medals at the SEA Games here, was also granted NS deferment till Aug 31 next year.

The Mindef statement added: "The Armed Forces Council would like to reiterate that the criteria for deferment remain strict and limited to exceptional cases.

"The criteria for deferment have not changed and both Mr Schooling and Mr Quah met these criteria."

Said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong: "He has been training very hard and has made tremendous progress in a relatively short time.

"In fact, the performance improvements he achieved for his 200m butterfly event over the first half of this year are comparable to what some of the top Olympic swimmers had achieved at a similar age.

"So he clearly has the potential to excel at the Olympic level. His latest swim time is also good enough to qualify for the Rio Olympics next year.

"This is why MCCY supported Zheng Wen's request for NS deferment, and I'm glad that Mindef has just announced that the application has been approved."

Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy also welcomed the news.

He said: "This is a great boost not just for swimming, but for sports in Singapore. This decision illustrates the willingness of the government to encourage our athletes and to help them achieve their individual goals in their sporting careers.

"This will only inspire other athletes across all sports to strive harder and to push themselves to reach world-class standards.

"We are confident that this move will allow our best and brightest sporting heroes to better focus on their training and development and achieve their best during their prime. The swimming fraternity is pleased to hear the news and will continue to encourage Zheng Wen in his progress at the upcoming 2015 World Championships in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games."

jermync@sph.com.sg