Each time Teong Tzen Wei dives into a swimming pool these days, he emerges to find himself in rarefied company.
While he finished eighth in the 50m butterfly final at the Fina World Championships on Sunday (June 19), his appearance in the championship race made him just the third Singaporean male swimmer to do so in the last four decades.
Ang Peng Siong had finished fourth in the 50m freestyle in Madrid in 1986, while Joseph Schooling clinched bronze medals in the 100m fly in Russia in 2015 and in Budapest two years later.
Teong, 24, swam 23.29sec in last night's race at the Danube Arena. American Caeleb Dressel won in 22.57, followed by Brazilian Nicholas Santos (22.78) and American Michael Andrew (22.79).
Teong had earlier set a personal best of 23.03sec in Saturday's semi-final and started the final as the seventh-fastest qualifier and the only Asian representative.
His previous best was 23.04sec, set en route to winning gold at last month's Hanoi SEA Games.
Schooling, 27, still owns the Asian record of 22.93sec, clocked during the semi-finals of the 2017 world meet.
While Schooling's struggles since winning Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Games have been well documented, his teammate Teong has flourished in recent years.
At the Hanoi SEA Games, he also claimed gold in the 50m free, touching the wall in 21.93sec to become the first South-east Asian man to go below 22sec.
Teong could not be reached before press time on Sunday but national coach Gary Tan was effusive in his praise of the sprinter.
He said: "Tzen Wei has been very focused on his goals in the last couple of years. He has worked very well with his coaches on his progression and his long-term plan. He has also been very diligent about his recovery and he is just not the same athlete he was five years ago.
"Back then, he was just thinking about representing Singapore and SEA Games medals.
"But especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, he took a big turn to make changes to the way he trains, how he focuses on races, and what he needs to work on in terms of deficits, strengths and build on the 1 per cent gainers to become a top swimmer."
In Sunday's women's 1,500m free heats, Gan Ching Hwee, 18, clocked 16min 32.43sec to lower her national record (16:33.54 set at the 2019 Singapore National Age Group Championships).
Gan, who won the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m free at the SEA Games, finished 14th of 26 participants overall. Chile's Kristel Kobrich (16:13.52) was the last to qualify for the eight-strong final.
Gan said: "It's actually been a couple of years since I had a PB in this event and I told myself to take the race out as hard as I could at the beginning and hold on as best as I could as well.
"I didn't change my training that much from SEA Games because of the short runway to this meet but I think the performances of Team Singapore at these world championships have really boosted the overall confidence of the team, myself included."