It is not often that you'd see swim queen Tao Li finish last in a race, even if it is not one of her pet events.
But that was exactly what happened last night at the Singapura Finance Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships (Senior) at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
The 25-year-old clocked 1min 00.13sec in the women's 100m freestyle final, which was won by Quah Ting Wen (56.11).
But Tao Li made the cut for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June in the 50m back with 29.50, just 0.01 seconds behind Shana Lim, who has already made the Games qualifying mark of 29.96 at the Singapore National Swimming Championships last December.
Tao Li clocked a new 18-and-over meet record in the backstroke event in the morning heats yesterday with 29.43, erasing Annis Loy's old mark of 33.03.
After her races last night, Tao Li said: "I wore my old suit in the morning and changed into a new one for the evening finals.
"The suit was fine for my first event (the 50 back) but tore just five minutes before my second event.
"It normally takes me half an hour and three people to help me get the suit on, so I couldn't change it before my second event."
The race suits had certain compression points, and the tear in her suit caused the suit to malfunction, compressing her hips and restricting her movement in the 100m freestyle.
"In the 50m back, I took one fewer stroke and that is why I lost out to Shana by a fraction. But I am a professional swimmer and I don't want to make any excuses, whether it is a torn suit or a fewer stroke," added Tao Li, who will return to China on Sunday or Monday for training, up till just before the SEA Games.
"My goal for the SEA Games is to win every event I take part in, and that includes the 50m back."
Quah, who clinched silver in the 100m freestyle at the 2013 SEA Games, has already clocked a better time last night than Thailand's Natthanan Junkrajang, who took the gold in 2013 with 56.23.
But she knows that she cannot be complacent, given that event timings will naturally progress with time.
The 22-year-old said: "Everyone is going to be training hard (for the SEA Games) but I am motivated to see that I am getting results for the work I've put in. I was actually gunning for a sub- 56-sec timing, which I last did in 2009 in the 'super suit'," she added, referring to her 55.57 effort at the 2009 Asian Youth Games.
"I want to prove to myself that I can do it."
Meanwhile, Russell Ong missed out on a SEA Games spot in the men's 50m freestyle, after finishing second last night with 23.67, behind Clement Lim (23.54).
Ong announced on Facebook his retirement from swimming late last night.
Lim already has a better time of 23.36 from the Incheon Asian Games last year, while Asiad gold medallist Joseph Schooling has claimed the other spot after clocking 23.09 at the Arena Pro Swim Series at Austin in January.
Ong, 25, took silver at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar with 23.14, behind gold medallist Triady Fauzi Sidiq of Indonesia (23.12).
Also, Roanne Ho displaced Cheryl Lim for one of the two SEA Games spots in the women's 100m breaststroke after winning last night's race in 1:13.44.
Lim clocked 1:14.12 at the Nationals last December, and returned 1:13.96 last night.
Samantha Yeo took the other spot after clocking 1:12.28 at the Asian Games last year to go under the SEA Games qualifying time of 1:12.68.
All nominations are still subject to approval by the Singapore National Olympic Council, especially in Ho's case, as her timing last night falls below the Games qualifying mark.
Ho said: "My personal best was 1:12.11 back in 2009 when I was wearing the 'super suit', and I was actually gunning for a new PB this evening.
"But Sergio (Lopez, national coach) told me not to worry, since there's still two months or so before the SEA Games."
"I think he is going to make my training crazy," she added, laughing.
This article was first published on Mar 20, 2015.
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