Flourish or fail, Zheng Wen must face reality

Quah's journey must include showing off form in and out of the pool

Various media gathered in a huddle of similar nationalities along a crowded mixed zone at the Olympic Aquatics Centre yesterday morning (Singapore time).

As always.

Waiting for their swimmer to walk from the pool deck into the zone to talk to them after the exertions in the water.

That is how it is neatly choreographed, it is the formula used in every competitive venue at the Olympics, World Championships or World Cup.

A small Singapore scrum was there waiting for Quah Zheng Wen after his poor performance in the men's 100m backstroke heats.

As various interviews were going on elsewhere along the line, we waited a little longer, before Quah emerged at one end, and walked past us all without breaking stride, only saying "Hi guys", before disappearing.

If his race was disappointing then this was worse, even if his face did tell the story.

He was visibly upset and, after finishing seventh in Heat 4 with a time of 54.38sec, he didn't want to face the media.

The pain was understandable, when the 19-year-old's national record reads 54.03, and when he's been in intense training for these Olympics.

I just wished he stood up to face questions instead of walking off.

Because at this level, that is what athletes do.

It would have become part of his learning curve in a possible grand mission at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

It would have said much about where he's at, mentally.

Instead, it was left to national coach Sergio Lopez (right) to try and shed light on Quah's performance.

"I don't know what happened. It's a puzzle to me," said Lopez, who will end his tenure with the Singapore swimming team after the Olympics.

"Zheng Wen said he felt a little slow, his legs were a little slow. I just don't know what happened."

The goal was a place in the top-16 and a spot in the semi-finals.

To peak, Quah was with a clutch of Singapore swimmers who went to the United States and Paraguay for two months in his final phase of preparation preceding the Rio Games, but he could only finish 22nd out of 39 competitors in his first event here.

Lopez said training had gone "very well".

BAFFLED

He added: "I watched him in training and I never thought this would happen... I thought he would break the national record today."

Quah will also race in the 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly here.

By the time you read this, he would have finished the heats of the 200m butterfly.

It is his strongest event, said Lopez, who thinks Quah can make the top-16 and the semi-finals (11.10am, semi-final 1, 11.19am, semi-final 2) this morning.

Joseph Schooling's national record is 1:55.73. Quah's personal best in the event is his qualifying time of 1min 56.26sec.

Based on qualifying times, 17 swimmers in the field of 30 for the event were faster than the Singaporean.

In his Heat 2, five of the seven rivals posted faster qualifying times.

But Lopez was confident.

"Everything he's done in preparation for the 200 fly has been very good," said the American, perhaps even hinting at something special.

Along with a small band of the Singapore media, I would have waited for Quah again in the mixed zone after his heat.

If he lines up in the semi-final, it means he would have done well and would have stopped to tell us his story.

It's easy when you pull it off.

What will be professional is if he faltered, again, and just wanted to get away from it all, but stopped to talk.

Now that requires strength.

leonardt@sph.com.sg

*The original headline of this article reflected the headline that appeared in print, we have changed the headline to that of TNP's online version. 

This article was first published on Aug 9, 2016.
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