Next generation steps up

Quah Zheng Wen on his way to victory in the 200m butterfly final yesterday. He would go on to make it six golds in the 4x100m medley relay to become the most successful male swimmer at the Philippine SEA Games.
Quah Zheng Wen on his way to victory in the 200m butterfly final yesterday. He would go on to make it six golds in the 4x100m medley relay to become the most successful male swimmer at the Philippine SEA Games.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Young guns come of age with big wins to leave S'pore coaches optimistic of future

Darren Chua, Jonathan Tan, Gan Ching Hwee, Christie Chue and Elena Pedersen.

Remember the names of these young guns, they are the future of Singapore swimming.

With seven individual and five relay golds among them, they were responsible for almost half of the country's 23 swim titles at the SEA Games. The tally matches the biggest haul from Singapore 2015 and surpassed the away record of 19 at Kuala Lumpur 2017.

National head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer said the key difference lay in the larger number of medal winners.

"We had 23 gold medals but, in the big picture, it's 12 individual gold medallists. In 2015, it was six, we doubled that," he said.

"That shows the strength of the team, we had so many first timers who won golds. That shows the pipeline is starting to build.

"We're not there yet, we want more upward pressure from kids coming through. I want coaches to dream as well and put more swimmers on the team. But it's going in the right direction."

It was an evening of surprises, with Gan starting the final day of pool action with a shock win in the women's 800m freestyle. The 16-year-old beat Vietnam's defending champion Nguyen Thi Anh Vien (8:48.65) to gold in 8min 41.48sec.

A "very happy" Gan praised Vien, who has six golds at these Games, saying: "I respect her mental strength and grit and resilience as she swims so many events in a day.

"So really hats off to her."

Quah Zheng Wen claimed his fifth gold in the 200m butterfly final before adding a sixth in the 4x100m medley later to become the most successful male swimmer in the Philippines.

But the battle for the 50m freestyle crown was the most exciting race of the night, as 17-year-old Tan outsprinted defending champion Teong Tzen Wei in a new meet and Singapore record of 22.25sec. Teong was second in 22.40.

The tussle for the women's 100m fly title saw the Quah siblings, Ting Wen and Jing Wen, finish one-two in 59.62sec and 59.73sec.

An emotional Jing Wen burst into tears at the media zone later as the 18-year-old talked about her sister's support for her, prompting a big hug from 26-year-old Ting Wen.

The men's 4x100m medley quartet of Zheng Wen, Lionel Khoo, Joseph Schooling and Chua then ended the meet with a win, which was also the Republic's 50th gold at these Games.

National training centre head coach Gary Tan said: "Singapore sports and Singapore swimming have come a long way, with kids training through the programme and with the national training centre in place as well as supportive clubs definitely helped develop these kids.

"There was strong work on the pipeline, especially for people like Darren, Jonathan, Tzen Wei.

"These guys were always under the radar, they're been working really hard and, with club swimmers like Christie, Ching Hwee coming through, that's something we're really excited about."

The 24-year-old Schooling, who lost the 50m fly and 100m free titles to his younger teammates Teong, 22, and Chua, 19, finished with four golds and two silvers - two golds fewer than at KL 2017.

His only individual title came in the 100m fly, in which he also earned his ticket to Tokyo 2020.

With the Olympics just seven months away, he said it had been a "roller-coaster ride" in Clark.

"Some good things to take away, some not so good things but, at the end of the day, just focus on the positives," he added. "I'm going back to training, getting better each day, getting a killer mindset. I've got seven to eight months so there's still some time. It's back to work and making that final push."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2019, with the headline 'Next generation steps up'. Print Edition | Subscribe