Swimming: Quah Jing Wen spreads her wings

Stress-free teenager expresses herself in 200m fly, sets U-17 record and meet mark

Quah Jing Wen powering her way to a national U-17 record and meet record in the 200m butterfly at the Singapore National Swimming C'ships. She won the event in 2:12.95.
Quah Jing Wen powering her way to a national U-17 record and meet record in the 200m butterfly at the Singapore National Swimming C'ships. She won the event in 2:12.95.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Overjoyed as she stepped out of the pool with a time in the 200m butterfly that shaved seconds off her previous best, Quah Jing Wen was quickly congratulated by team-mates and coaches at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. But the compliments - most of them saying she came "so close" and "just 0.3sec" off - did not quite make sense to the winner.

She soon realised that the 2min 12.95sec clocked at the Neo Garden 13th Singapore National Swimming Championships last evening was not simply a national Under-17 mark, having eclipsed Tao Li's 2:14.11 set in 2005, and a meet record. It had also come within touching distance of the national record (2:12.63) Tao set at the 2008 Olympics in the now-banned "super suits". Leading up to the Beijing Games, Tao set the previous meet record of 2:13.20.

Notably, Jing Wen - along with other national swimmers competing at the annual event which ended yesterday - had not tapered for this meet. Breaking records was thus far from her mind.

The 16-year-old said: "I did a personal best in the morning (2:15.15) so I was already pretty happy with that. I wasn't looking to do a specific time. But I'm really happy because the 200m fly is an event that I've been swimming for a long time but I've been stagnant at 2:16.

"I did wonder later if I could have gone faster but I think instead of aiming for records I just want to better my times."

The youngest of three siblings and arguably not as established as her sister Ting Wen, 24, and brother Zheng Wen, 20, Quah said the meet helped her develop a mindset to approach competitions.

Confessing that she piles pressure on herself, she said racing with less tension last week had proven that it can lead to good results.

"I tend to put a lot of stress on myself before every race and I just get very tense. I think the main thing that has been different is the amount of stress that I put on myself," said Jing Wen, whose pet stroke is the butterfly.

Bettering the national mark remains a goal, and National Training Centre head coach Gary Tan is confident his charge is capable of reaching that target.

He said: "Jing (1.64m tall) is a lot smaller and not as strong as where Tao Li was at that age. This is a good indication of where she's at and the record is a matter of time.

"She has gotten a lot more consistent with what she needs to do in practice... and is definitely a lot sharper than a few months ago. It's purely a lot of hard work."

Jing Wen is slated to compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas next month before the Aug 19-30 SEA Games.

She said: "This is a confidence boost but I'm not going to let myself get too cocky. I'll continue training like before and if I can focus on the fundamentals, I'm confident that I'll do well at the SEA Games."

In the women's 50m freestyle, Sarah Yip clocked 26.70sec to lower her Under-14 mark (26.71sec). She was sixth. Amanda Lim, a four-time SEA Games champion in this event, took gold in 25.76sec, just edging out Ting Wen (25.79sec).

Pang Sheng Jun clocked a third meet record in as many days, finishing the 200m individual medley in 2:03.27 to re-write Joseph Schooling's 2011 mark of 2:05.07.

Said Tan: "Many of the swimmers are going to have a packed schedule (over the next two months) so we didn't want our kids to come in feeling like they were fresh.

"I'm very pleased with how they have been swimming."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Jing Wen spreads her wings'. Subscribe