SEA Games: Roanne Ho, back after life-threatening lung issue, retains 50m breaststroke title in new Games record

Roanne Ho of Singapore gestures after winning the SEA Games women's 50m breastroke held on Aug 22, 2017.
Roanne Ho of Singapore gestures after winning the SEA Games women's 50m breastroke held on Aug 22, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Kuala Lumpur - Having endured a living nightmare following two major surgeries since January last year, Roanne Ho could be forgiven for thinking yesterday's win in the 50m breaststroke final was a dream.

But it was no figment of her imagination when she touched the wall in 31.29 seconds, breaking her own national and SEA Games record (31.45sec) and retaining her title from two years ago. Malaysian Phee Jinq En (31.54sec) and Ho's team-mate Samantha Yeo (32.17sec) completed the podium.

Bearing a huge grin, the 25-year-old Ho said: "It is one of the best things that's ever happened to me in my life. This time last year I wasn't even swimming. To be here a year later, winning gold for my country, it's just unbelievable."

The high of victory at the 2015 Games on home soil was cruelly followed by news in January last year that she had a life-threatening collapsed right lung which needed to be drained. Her fitness hell continued following a posterior labral tear in her right shoulder which required surgery in June last year.

These setbacks meant she was unable to attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

She said: "We would be here for two hours if I had to talk about my journey. I really thought it wouldn't be possible. I almost gave up but I had very strong support from my family, coaches and team-mates."

As she spoke, Yeo who was standing next to her, hugged her.

Ho added she lost a lot of her fitness after her injuries and "even till now I can't keep up with most of my team, which is quite embarrassing. But they kept saying, 'It's okay, you only have one lap to do in Malaysia'."

She left the rest of the field at the National Aquatic Centre in her wake. Her time was also under the qualifying time (31.47sec, pegged at the sixth-placed result from the previous edition) for next year's Commonwealth Games, a target she had set for herself prior to arriving in the Malaysian capital.

Singapore's men's 4x100m freestyle relay team also went under the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games' qualifying time of 3min 19.82sec after the quartet of Joseph Schooling, Darren Lim, Danny Yeo and Quah Zheng Wen clocked 3:17.85 to win gold last night, ahead of Malaysia (3:21.79) and Indonesia (3:23.65). Their time was also a new national and Games record. Both marks (3:19.59) were set at the last Games.

It was Singapore's 310th swimming gold since the Games - first known as the South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games - began in 1959 and 200th after the biennial event was renamed the SEA Games in 1977.

Quah, who also won the 200m butterfly in 1:57.95 ahead of Malaysia's Tia'a Faang Der (2:01.04) and Thai Navaphat Wongcharoen (2:01.06), said: "That was a pretty darn good time and we're taking the right steps as a relay team."

A fifth 4x100m free title was sweet but Danny wanted to pay tribute to Ho. He said: "She's battled a lot of demons to get here. I'm so proud of her."

Ho pointed skywards to celebrate her win. Moments after emerging from the pool, she said: "Feels like I'm still in a dream. To be here feels like a miracle."