SEA Games: Singapore's swimmers win 23 golds, match best ever haul

(From left) Singapore's 4x200m freestyle quartet of Quah Ting Wen, Quah Jing Wen, Gan Ching Hwee and Christie Chue smile after winning the gold medal at the 2019 SEA Games in Philippines on Dec 5, 2019.
(From left) Singapore's 4x200m freestyle quartet of Quah Ting Wen, Quah Jing Wen, Gan Ching Hwee and Christie Chue smile after winning the gold medal at the 2019 SEA Games in Philippines on Dec 5, 2019.PHOTO: SNOC

CLARK - Darren Chua, Jonathan Tan, Gan Ching Hwee, Christie Chue and Elena Pedersen for these young guns are the future of Singapore swimming.

With seven individual and five relay golds between 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 the 2015 Singapore Games and surpassed the previous away record of 19 won in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.

National head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer said the key difference lay in the larger number of swimmers who won medals in the pool.

"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 strength of the team, we had so many first timers that won gold medals that shows the pipeline starts 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 a day of surprises with Gan starting the final day with a shock win in the women's 800m freestyle, as the 16-year-old beat Vietnam's defending champion Nguyen Thi Anh Vien to the gold in 8min 41.48sec. Vien, who won six golds at the Games, was second in 8:48.65.

Gan said: "I'm very happy but if we put things in perspective, she's actually swum many many more events than me. 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 of the Games in the 200m butterfly final before adding a sixth in the 4x100m medley relay 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 out sprinted 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 siblings Quah Ting Wen, 26, and Jing Wen, 18, finish one-two in 59.62sec and 59.73sec respectively. An emotional Jing Wen burst into tears at the media zone later as she talked about her elder sister's support for her, prompting a big hug from 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 Christy, Ching Hwee coming through, that's something we're really excited about."

Schooling, who lost the 50m fly and 100m free titles to his younger teammates Teong and Chua, finished with four gold and two silvers - two fewer golds than the previous edition in Malaysia.

With the Olympics just seven months away, Schooling, who earned his ticket to Tokyo 2020 for the 100m fly, 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."