Swimming: Singapore athletes miss out on Olympic berths at final qualifying meet

National head coach Stephan Widmer acknowledged that it had been a difficult campaign amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
National head coach Stephan Widmer acknowledged that it had been a difficult campaign amid the Covid-19 pandemic.PHOTO: SSA

SINGAPORE - Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and open-water specialist Chantal Liew remain the only Singaporean swimmers to make the grade for the July 23-Aug 8 Tokyo Games following the conclusion of the country's final Olympic qualifier on Sunday (June 27).

Over the course of the 16th Singapore National Swimming Championships Invitationals (Major Games Qualifier), no local swimmer met the Olympic A cut in their respective events, although seven hit the B cut.

Two national records were also broken at the five-day meet sponsored by Ajinomoto/aminoVital.

A maximum of two swimmers may represent their country in an event if they have met the Olympic A cut. Otherwise, one athlete per event can potentially enter if they meet the B cut.

The seven who made the B cut last week were:

- Maximillian Ang (men's 200m breaststroke, men's 200m individual medley)

- Gan Ching Hwee (women's 800m, 1,500m)

- Jonathan Tan (men's 50m, 100m, 200m free)

- Glen Lim (men's 200m free)

- Teong Tzen Wei (men's 100m butterfly)

- Ong Jung Yi (men's 100m fly)

- Darren Chua (men's 100m free)

Three swimmers - Gan (women's 800m free), Quah Ting Wen (women's 100m free), Ang (men's 100m breast) - also qualified for the Nov 21-Dec 2 SEA Games in Hanoi.

Schooling and Quah will be joined by one other female swimmer in Tokyo on a universality place.

National head coach Stephan Widmer admitted he had expected "a few more" swimmers to join Schooling and Quah, who had qualified for the Olympics at the 2019 SEA Games, but he acknowledged that it had been a difficult campaign amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While some like Jonathan Tan may have been able to adapt better to the challenges posed by the pandemic and lower their times, it was not the case for all. Tan clocked 22.12 seconds in the men's 50m freestyle on Sunday to rewrite his national record and narrowly miss out on the Olympic A time of 22.01sec. The other record breaker was Ang in the 200m breaststroke.


Jonathan Tan met the Olympic B cut in the men's 50m, 100m, 200m freestyle. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SWIMMING ASSOCIATION

Some of the swimmers who had been identified as having the potential to qualify directly for Tokyo at this meet included Ting Wen, Amanda Lim, Teong and Ong.

Widmer said: "For society and athletes, it was challenging and for everyone not to deal with just the physicality (of sport), there was certainly another layer on top of that that just drained everyone emotionally.

"For some reason we haven't been able to convert to faster swimming across the board. Again, it's been a long journey and with the challenges of Covid, to continue the programme was a little bit more demanding. Around the world, it has worked well for some and for others not so much."

Last year, Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy had expressed hope at achieving a "long-haul" goal at a relay team winning a medal at the Olympics, although he noted that there was no timeline for this target. Singapore had looked like having a chance of making the top 12 relay places in the women's 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays with both teams ranked 15th and 16th in 2019.

National training centre head coach Gary Tan said: "I really feel for all the swimmers - they've really worked hard during this journey and as coaching staff, we are fairly disappointed with the results but with every single event and race they are swimming, there is an immense pressure to perform and make the mark."

While the attention will be on those headed to the Tokyo Games, Tan also stressed the importance of learning from this experience and making long-term plans for future competitions like the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The 39-year-old said: "In some ways, this is like closure after such a long rollercoaster ride of emotions and results as well.

"There were some good and bad things that came out of this situation, but taking stock for us is really to see how these situations can make us a little more resilient towards dealing with situations like that."