As much as Quah Zheng Wen appeared cool and composed, sitting on the pool deck while others limbered up, he was a bundle of nerves before each of his two races at the Singapura Finance 46th Singapore National Age Group Championships last night.
In the end, the anxiety proved unfounded, as the 18-year-old performed well enough to break the national 100m backstroke mark and also deny Joseph Schooling one of two SEA Games slots in the 200m freestyle.
The Swimfast Aquatic Club member timed 1min 49.89sec, finishing second to Aquatic Performance Swim Club's Danny Yeo (1:49.59) in the 200m free. The times were personal bests for both swimmers.
Some 20 minutes later, Zheng Wen lowered his own national 100m backstroke record of 55.99, timing 55.86, although this is still behind the winning time at the 2013 SEA Games.
Zheng Wen's 200m free time was faster than Schooling's 1:50.21, which means Yeo and Zheng Wen will now represent Singapore in the event at June's SEA Games.
The Republic can have up to two swimmers per event, and the Singapore Swimming Association said last night that Schooling does not have any more meets to clock better qualifying times.
Zheng Wen, who credited his improvement to new national coach Sergio Lopez, told The Straits Times: "I was really nervous. It was also my first time attempting a 200m event (freestyle) since I came back from my study break, and the 200 is a really intense race."
The teenager, whose name was met with the loudest cheers in the stands, added: "The national record was a bonus, because it was my second event.
I've been training 100 per cent for three months with fewer things on my plate, and it's paid off. I'm starting to get my fitness back, and I can definitely go faster."
Meanwhile, Singapore Swimming Club's Christopher Cheong also shattered the 200m breaststroke record. He clocked 2:16.70 in the final, almost a second faster than Lionel Khoo's mark of 2:17.69 set in 2012.
The 18-year-old said: "I'm at a loss for words. After the 2013 SEA Games, I became more focused when I realised I could go far in swimming. I started to put in a lot of work in training, almost double the volume and intensity."
Swimfast's Maximillian Ang also lowered the national Under-14 200m breast record with a time of 2:26.59, down from the previous mark of 2:27.00, in the heats.
Lopez, who will lead the national team on a training trip to Spain next week, played down his and assistant Gary Tan's roles in the national swimmers' good showing.
He said: "They were already at a good level when I came, and were well-trained by the local club coaches. We just helped them think like a group. "I'm not surprised (by the records) and I'm happy they were able to swim the way they did."
The meet, which is the last SEA Games qualifying meet for locally-based swimmers, ends on Sunday.
This article was first published on March 18, 2015.
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