SEA Games 2017

SEA Games: Tzen and the art of surprise

Singapore's Teong Tzen Wei celebrates after winning the men's 50m freestyle gold. His time of 22.55 seconds was just 0.08sec off compatriot Joseph Schooling's Games and national records (22.47sec), and under the qualifying mark (22.91sec) for next ye
Singapore's Teong Tzen Wei celebrates after winning the men's 50m freestyle gold. His time of 22.55 seconds was just 0.08sec off compatriot Joseph Schooling's Games and national records (22.47sec), and under the qualifying mark (22.91sec) for next year's Asian Games in Indonesia.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

S'pore debutant, 20, wins 50m freestyle gold against the odds with a personal-best effort

Seconds after staging one of the upsets of the SEA Games swimming meet with victory in yesterday's 50m freestyle final, Teong Tzen Wei needed to sit down to compose himself.

He stared at the floor and shook his head in disbelief. The magnitude of his feat was still sinking in.

The 20-year-old, a late bloomer by his own admission on the international stage, had just won a gold medal on his Games debut.

In doing so, he became only the third Singaporean to win the blue-riband sprint in the past 25 years, joining Arren Quek (2011) and Joseph Schooling (2015), who was in the stands cheering him on.

Teong touched the wall in 22.55 seconds - smashing his previous personal best of 22.90sec.

He finished ahead of 2013 winner and pre-race favourite Triady Fauzi Sidiq of Indonesia (22.66sec) - the fastest qualifier - and Vietnam's Paul Le Nguyen (22.90sec), both of whom had set national records for their respective countries.

He said: "It feels like I'm on another planet. It was beautiful, no words to describe it."

And he won it despite not being able to train as much as his peers.

Last year, he trained just once, after being enlisted for national service - aptly with the Police Coast Guard. He returned to serious training only in January, and even then, he managed only six sessions a week, almost half what other national swimmers manage.

He said: "I came here with nothing to lose. I was a huge underdog and I just gave it my all, didn't leave anything to luck or fate."

Having tasted gold, he is now eyeing a bigger stage. His time was just 0.08sec off Schooling's Games and national records (22.47sec) set in 2015, and under the qualifying mark (22.91sec) for next year's Asian Games. The title of Singapore's fastest man ever is his next target, as Teong - known to team-mates as Tzen - said: "I really look forward to beating Jo's time one day and after that, working to get under the 22-sec mark."

While his win was a surprise, there was little drama in Singapore's other gold yesterday at the National Aquatic Centre. The quartet of Quah Ting Wen, her sister Jing Wen, Samantha Yeo and Hoong En Qi won the women's 4x100m medley in 4min 9.32sec, ahead of Thailand (4:11.67) and Indonesia (4:12.44). The Republic have won this event since 2003.

It was Ting Wen's fifth gold in Malaysia and her 18th overall.

She said: "Tonight was pretty close, we had some good competition and were under a bit of pressure to (retain) our title."

Getting her hands on some silverware was sweet for Hoong, who finished fifth in the 50m backstroke and fourth in the 100m back. The 18-year-old said: "I'm just overwhelmed to be part of this team."

Gan Ching Hwee also bagged her first Games medal after she finished third in last night's 400m individual medley. The braces-wearing teenager, who celebrated her 14th birthday last month, was stunned.

She said: "I keep all my medals in a box in my room. But I may want to display this one somewhere else, so it'll remind me that, one day, hopefully I'll be able to get first place."

Singapore head into today's final day of swimming action with 16 golds from 27 finals. The Republic won a record 23 titles two years ago on home soil. Their best away showing was 19 golds from the 1969 and 1971 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Tzen and the art of surprise'. Print Edition | Subscribe