SEA Games: Quah Jing Wen comes of age as Joseph Schooling cruises

Singapore's Joseph Schooling leaping from the starting blocks during the men's 50m butterfly final at the SEA Games on Aug 21, 2017.
Singapore's Joseph Schooling leaping from the starting blocks during the men's 50m butterfly final at the SEA Games on Aug 21, 2017. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

KUALA LUMPUR - The present and future of Singapore swimming was on show yesterday as Quah Jing Wen and Joseph Schooling ensured the Republic’s swim squad got off to a golden start at the SEA Games.

Olympic 100m butterfly champion Schooling’s victory in the 50m fly was to be expected but Jing Wen’s dominant win in the 200m fly surprised herself – she sported a sheepish grin after emerging from the National Aquatic Centre pool – and even her team-mates.

The 16-year-old’s time of 2min 12.03sec was more than 2.5sec clear of Vietnam’s Le Thi My Thao (2:14.52) and Thailand’s Kittiya Patarawadee (2:15.05). Defending champion Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, an Asian Games double bronze medallist, was fourth (2:16.61).

Jing Wen’s swim also erased Tao Li’s national record of 2:12.63 set at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the now-banned supersuits.

Jing Wen said: “It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling. When I touched the wall and saw I won and had a new PB (personal best), it was just elation.”

It was her first SEA Games title.

Two years ago, she made her debut and featured in only the 400m individual medley, winning a bronze.

Later last night, she anchored the women’s 4x100m freestyle team to a new Games and national record record. The quartet of Jing Wen, her older sister Ting Wen, Amanda Lim and Natasha Ong clocked 3:44.38, lowering the 3:45.73 Singapore had set at the 2009 edition in Laos. Thailand were second in 3:46.46 followed by Indonesia in 3:50.56.

Previously on the periphery, Jing Wen is now one of the country’s leading medal hopes and has another four individual events (200m and 400m IM, 100m free, 100m fly) plus the 4x100m medley and 4x200m relays.

That sets up an eight-gold haul, which if she achieves, would make her Singapore’s most bemedalled athlete in Malaysia.

Schooling is scheduled to compete in three individual and three relays, down from the total of nine he raced in 2015.

Jing Wen, the Straits Times Star of the Month for July after emerging as the most bemedalled athlete at last month’s Commonwealth Youth Games with a haul of five golds and one silver, said: “I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to go out there and race and hopefully hit new PBs.”

Schooling, 22, was not at his best – his winning time of 23.06sec was slower than his Asian record of 22.93sec – yet he finished almost a body length clear of Indonesia’s Triady Fauzi Sidiq (24.01) and Vietnam’s Le Nguyen Paul (24.37) and easily broke the meet record of 23.49sec which he had set in 2015.

He said: “It was my first swim so it was a little nervy. I’m just glad to get a win under my belt. I couldn’t ask for a better start and hope to get better through the meet.”

He received the second loudest roar from the crowd – after Selangor native Chan Jie – before the final and said he had not expected any backlash after his comments about Malaysia last month.

Then, he had appeared to suggest he was looking forward to teaching Causeway rivals Malaysia “a thing or two” at the SEA Games.

He later clarified that he was not referring to the Malaysians but to the younger members of Team Singapore.

Schooling added last night: “We’re here to have a good meet and put on a good show. The crowd wants to see that. It’s a Monday night and the stands were packed.”

Singapore’s other medal came in the 50m backstroke. The Quahs’ brother Zheng Wen lost his crown and Games record (25.27sec set in 2015) when he was second in 25.39sec, behind Indonesian I Gede Siman Sudartawa (25.20). Paul took the bronze in 25.82.

Malaysian Welson Wee (3:50.26) rewrote the meet’s 400m free record while Vien redeemed herself with a new Games mark in the 100m backstroke (1:01.89).

That Jing Wen was involved in two record-breaking feats was fitting, said 13-time Games gold medallist Ting Wen.

The 24-year-old added: “She (Jing Wen) isn’t vocal about being compared to me and Zheng Wen but tonight she showed what a good swimmer she is. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”