Target Tokyo: Zheng Wen eyes medal at 2020 Olympics

The Rio Olympics are still some eight months away, but swimmer Quah Zheng Wen has already set his sights further down the road - the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While the 19-year-old, who is currently training full-time after finishing his studies at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), will have National Service and medical school to contend with after the Rio Games next year.

He will then gun for his third Olympic Games, hoping to advance to at least a final, or even winning a medal in Tokyo.

"I would definitely be swimming at the 2020 Games no matter what, and making a semi-final or final next year would put me out there in terms of experience and confidence," Zheng Wen said in an interview with The New Paper. "I would be more ready and prepared in 2020."

The swimmer, who was allowed to defer his enlistment till after Rio next year, has beaten the 'A' timings in three events so far - the men's 100m back, 100m fly and 200m fly.

While Zheng Wen was far from his personal bests in the 400m IM and 200m back at the 2012 Olympics, both he and the national coaches have high hopes that he will progress beyond the heats in Rio.

The optimism stems from his performances in his first year training as a full-time athlete.

Other than the 12 medals at June's SEA Games and three Olympic 'A' cuts, he also clinched two silvers and five bronzes from the eight-leg World Cup series and made his Fina World Championships debut this year in Kazan.

He said: "I have been racing a lot of fast guys in the World Cup, and racing consistently against people like (South Africa's Olympic champion) Chad le Clos and (American butterfly specialist) Tom Shields.

"Just racing with them continuously removed some of the awe and aura that a lot of younger swimmers project on them; it just showed me that they are regular people like me.

"If they have a shot at it (winning medals), then I have an equal chance to do it too."

Repeated exposure to international races, as well as talks and training with national coach Sergio Lopez and his assistant Gary Tan, have helped Zheng Wen stand tall in the "scary" world of top-class swimming.

He said: "If you had asked me a couple of years back whether I would have thought myself to be winning medals in the World Cup, I wouldn't have imagined it.

"Even the Commonwealth Games last year was still really scary for me.

"I felt it was such a big stage, even when in reality it wasn't because the big guys were from only a few countries, like South Africa, Australia and Canada.

"A lot has changed between then and now... but my goal for 2016 hasn't really changed since I thought about it when I was in school last year.

"It is basically to be more than just a participant at the Olympics, hopefully qualify for a semi-final or final."

National assistant coach Tan said both coaches and swimmer have agreed that the 200m fly will be his main focus for Rio, with the race strategies for the other two events still to be discussed.

Tan said: "He is multi-talented but, for the Olympics, he has to stay focused on a single event to do well.

"The 200m fly is something we are looking towards to and we believe he has great potential to make his mark at the Olympics."

Beyond Brazil next year, Zheng Wen expects to enlist for full-time NS before starting his medical studies at the National University of Singapore.

While he will not be training full-time in preparation for Tokyo 2020, he feels he will be able to cope, after seeing how teammates such as Amanda Lim, Pang Sheng Jun and Danny Yeo cope with tertiary studies and training.

"I think I can balance school and swimming pretty well," said Zheng Wen, who scored 43 points out of a maximum of 45 for his international baccalaureate diploma last year.

"I always somehow manage it in the end, we'll just see how it goes."


This article was first published on December 26, 2015.
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