Swimming is not a co-curricular activity (CCA) at Westwood Secondary School. But that did not stop its student Goh Chiat Ling from holding her own as she finished second in the girls' B Division 100m freestyle final yesterday.
The 16-year-old clocked 1min 3.06sec at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, sandwiched between Methodist Girls' School's (MGS) Natalie Ho (58.99sec) and Amber Goh (1:03.49).
Traditionally, schools such as MGS, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls' School and the Singapore Sports School (SSP) have dominated the Schools National Swimming Championships. The five schools accounted for 77 per cent of all 400 medals in the school meet this year.
"It doesn't mean that if you're not from those schools, you can't win. I think it all depends on hard work. If you put in the effort, you deserve it," said Chiat Ling, who trains six times a week with SwimDolphia Aquatic School.
Westwood also helped by allowing her to go to school late if she has training, and sitting out physical education (PE) lessons if she has an upcoming competition.
"If I have to leave school early for training or competitions, my teachers always make sure I catch up on my work every time. The school has given me a lot of support and I'm very grateful for that," she added.
Medals won this year by "Big Five" swimming schools - Methodist Girls' School, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls' School and the Singapore Sports School.
Allowing greater scheduling flexibility for talented student-athletes has helped schools like Westwood become more competitive, observed former national swimmer and National Youth Sports Institute head coach Leonard Tan, 33.
Freddie Chan, the swimming teacher-in-charge of Outram Secondary School - who won two golds this year - said it is encouraging that swimmers from other schools are entering the field.
"This means we have a wider pool of swimmers and they are open to joining other schools who are able to support their pursuit in this field," he said.
"The powerhouses will always be there, but I think in the future, we will see more schools coming up to challenge them for the medals."
Creating a culture of excellence in a single sport takes time, noted Elaine Chan, MGS' teacher-in-charge of swimming since 2004.
She said: "Winning individual medals is possible but, as a championship for schools, it will take a while because it takes a long time to build up a team big enough to compete at this level and be able to win the championship.
"This year is the first time after 25 years that we have won both B and C Divisions, the last time we won both divisions in the same year was in 1994."
Greater competition benefits all parties, noted ACS(I) and national swimmer Jonathan Tan, who won the boys' A Div 100m free final in a meet record of 50.64sec yesterday.
Jonathan, 17, said: "(The purpose of the Schools National) is to keep the competitive spirit going and help us to gain confidence before we move on to bigger meets...
"Since other schools are getting better, I'm really very happy. After all, in swimming, it's better as a nation that we develop together and work towards a common goal like overseas meets."
Meanwhile, ACS(I) swept the boys' overall titles while RI finished second in all three divisions. SSP were third in the B and C Div while Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC) were third in the A Div.
In the girls' category, MGS won the B and C titles ahead of RGS and SSP. RI were first in the A Div ahead of ACS(I) and ACJC.