Swimming: Teong Tzen Wei 4th at world c’ships; 1st S’porean to compete in 25m final

Teong Tzen Wei matched his Asian record in the men's 50m butterfly final at the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) on Wednesday. ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE – The dark clouds may have descended on Teong Tzen Wei’s career in the last three months, but the national swimmer has bounced back since with a stellar showing at the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m).

His performance at this week’s meet in Melbourne, where he broke the men’s 50m butterfly Asian record and became the first Singaporean to qualify for the final of the short-course event, has given him hope for a “very fun and bright year” in 2023.

Teong, 25, was recently embroiled in a drug controversy alongside teammates Joseph Schooling and Amanda Lim.

In his first media interview since the incident, the swimmer spoke about his form and targets for the 2023 season.

Looking relaxed after his race, he said: “It’s a good learning opportunity for me to grow and for my team and coaches to find out how we can all get faster together.

“I think it’s shaping up pretty well and, with enough consistency and hard work, next year will be a very fun and bright year.”

Teong has a busy schedule in 2023, with the Cambodia SEA Games, Hangzhou Asian Games and Fukuoka World Aquatics Championships pencilled in.

He will be looking to build on his 2022 success, culminating in his performances in Melbourne, where he first clocked an Asian record of 22.01 seconds in the 50m butterfly heats on Tuesday before equalling the mark in the final.

Unfortunately it was not quick enough for a medal, as he finished fourth, just 0.03sec off Hungary’s bronze medallist Szebasztian Szabo, who is also the world record holder. Brazil’s Nicholas Santos claimed his fourth gold in the event in 21.78sec, ahead of Switzerland’s Noe Ponti (21.96).

Teong’s achievement was also noteworthy as he had returned to training with the national team at the OCBC Aquatic Centre only in early November. Head coach Gary Tan also shared on social media that Teong has been recovering from a broken wrist and illness in the last three months.

After it was revealed in September that Teong was one of three national swimmers who admitted to consuming a controlled drug overseas, he was not allowed to train with the national team. He also did not have any access to the facilities, benefits or services accorded to high-performance athletes for a month.

Sport Singapore also suspended support for the trio during that period.

While Teong did not directly address the incident, he appreciated the chance to participate at the meet. He will also compete in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly.

He said: “My form has been not too bad this year... with the past three months dealing with certain external factors leading up to this meet, I’ve done well...

“My team behind me at Singapore Swimming has really allowed me to reap the most out of this opportunity...

“It’s always bitter to miss out on the podium just by so little but I think it’s okay because it’ll just give me and my team more motivation to work harder and see what else in the future we can go out there and achieve.”

The sprint specialist has enjoyed a successful 2022. At the Hanoi SEA Games in May, he became the first South-east Asian to clock a sub-22 second time in the 50m freestyle.

In June, he became just the third male Singaporean to qualify for a final at the World Championships. He then clinched a silver in the 50m butterfly at the Commonwealth Games in July.

His milestone achievements have earned comparisons with Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Games.

Asked about the comparison, Teong said: “Over the years, I’ve realised that it’s nice to hear the good things that people have to say. But in the end, it’s your own self-talk that’s what matters most. I’m just trying to work on myself and be the best version that I can be.”

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