Swimming: Fast but not fast enough in his eyes

Swimming: Fast but not fast enough in his eyes

For teenage swimmer Darren Lim, the past two years have been fast and furious, like the title of his favourite Hollywood film.

He has shot up more than 15cm in height, developed an abdominal six-pack, and also become Singapore's quickest man in the pool.

The schoolboy achieved that feat at last month's National Championships by clocking 22.73 seconds - a prodigious effort for a 14-year-old.

To put that in perspective, no Under-15 competitor from top swimming nation the United States has ever swum that fast, with the closest being Michael Andrew, also 14, who timed 23.47 this year.

Darren's time would have won him gold at the previous Asian Youth Games and SEA Games. He is headed for both competitions this year.

His time also puts him just 0.04sec away from breaking the country's longest standing national swimming record - Ang Peng Siong's 22.69sec clocked in 1982, when Ang became the fastest man in the world that year.

Dressed smartly in his Sunday best to receive The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for June, the soft-spoken and usually reserved swimmer flashed a toothy grin as he slouched into a black leather sofa when congratulated on his success.

He said: "Actually, I'm a bit surprised. I didn't expect to improve so much these past few months."

The Swimfast Aquatic Club competitor is modest, but he knows that his rise from obscurity did not happen overnight.

It is the result of spending over 20 hours a week toiling in the pool. Barring injury or illness, he has not gone more than two days without training in the past two years.

It is his mother Corinne, a kindergarten supervisor, who ferries him to and from daily training, but the swimmer is clearly self-driven.

In his free time, he watches videos of Brazilian sprinter Cesar Cielo's record-breaking swims and he monitors the progress of his international peers through their rankings.

When he learnt that he would place at the top of his age group (13-14) in the US, he sought to find out where he stood among the world's fastest men. He is 97th.

Outside the pool, he keeps to a strict, self-imposed diet. He constantly reminds his mother that he needs his home-cooked food baked or steamed, not fried.

Once when a schoolmate offered him ice cream, Darren, whose older sister Shana is also a national swimmer, replied: "No thanks. That's going to cost me 0.01sec."

Despite topping the nation and region's timing charts, the boy's focus has not eased.

He weighs 64kg and stands at 1.78m, but wonders if he will continue to grow and also worries about how much his American or European counterparts would improve once they hit their growth spurts.

But his coach Gary Tan is not fretting over his protege's vertical development.

He says: "We really don't know how much more he can grow. So, we should focus on working on the technical aspect of his swims."

Calling Darren a rough diamond, he feels the swimmer still has to work on several aspects of his race to trim those precious split-seconds off his time.

First and perhaps most obviously, is his dive. Because of his weaker underwater swims, Darren tends to surface early, thus losing about half a body length to his competitors after the plunge.

Tan also feels that they will have to work on refining his strokes and also on boosting his speed in the second half of the race by increasing his lung capacity.

What separates Darren from his peers, Tan believes, is his natural fast-twitch muscles - which are better geared towards generating short bursts of strength.

Says Tan, himself a former Olympian: "He has so much raw speed. During our dry land exercises, you can easily see that his flutter kicks are twice the speed of the rest."

To this, Darren replies with a laugh: "Yah (sic), but I can't last for long."

He doesn't have to. Only for 22sec to be precise. Or, like Ang is predicting, even 21.

ugenec@sph.com.sg


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