Quah Zheng Wen is pencilled in for 12 events at the SEA Games. Yet if there was one race the Singapore swimmer was itching to win, it was the 100m backstroke.
At the last SEA Games, after finishing second to Indonesia's I Gede Siman Sudartawa in the same event, he said: "They call him the South-east Asian king of backstroke. Hopefully in 2015, there will be some dethroning going on."
Yesterday, on the opening night of the swimming programme and in front of a capacity crowd at the 3,000-seat OCBC Aquatic Centre, he did just that.
Clocking 54.51sec, the 18-year-old Singaporean set a new Games and national record to finish more than a second ahead of the Indonesian's 55.60. Vietnam's Tran Duy Khoi was third in 56.31sec.
Trailing at the halfway mark, Quah's powerful underwater kicks at the turn helped him surge ahead of his rival and into the lead, one he never relinquished.
Said a visibly pleased Quah: "At the turn, I saw that we were level, and that gave me the confidence to go on and win the race.
"I'm always more confident in the 200m, so I'm happy to have won this. It gives me more confidence (against Siman) going forward, but I can't get complacent. The 50m will be very close."
Siman has vowed not to make it easy for Quah: "I'm disappointed, but I did everything right. His underwater kicks were excellent. But I'll try to win the 50m."
The win helped ease Quah's disappointment of narrowly losing the 200m freestyle to Vietnam's Hoang Quy Phuoc in the opening swim of the evening. The defending champion won in a Games record of 1:48.96, while Quah was second in 1:49.17.
There was some consolation for the Singaporean though, who set a national record with his time.
Singapore's other gold came from the women's 4x100m freestyle relay, which the quartet of Nur Marina Chan, Amanda Lim, Hoong En Qi and Quah Ting Wen won in 3:46.60.
Lionel Khoo added a silver in the 200m breaststroke. His time of 2:16.66 was also a national record. Christopher Cheong was third in 2:16.99 in a race won by Thai Radomyos Matjiur in 2:14.83, while debutante Quah Jing Wen added a bronze in the 400m individual medley.
Yet, while it was a positive night for Singapore, it was Vietnam who stole the show with three golds and three Games records from six events.
Leading the Vietnamese charge was Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who finished with two golds to add to Phuoc's win in the 200m free.
Anh Vien was in a class of her own, as she won the 800m free in 8:34.85, way ahead of Thailand's Ammiga Himathongkom (8:52.99) and Benjaporn Sriphanomthorn (8:56.39). The previous Games mark was 8:35.41.
It was the same story in the 400m individual medley, which the Vietnamese won in 4:42.88, bettering the previous Games mark of 4:43.93 - which she had set in the morning's heats.
Thailand's Pawapotako Phiangkhwan was second (4:52.63), and Jing Wen took third spot (4:59.52).
Said Nguyen, who is entered for 13 races: "I'm not surprised, I knew I can do this. I'm happy to have won, and I will try my best to win my other races."
This article was first published on June 7, 2015.
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