Tired Tao says she's yet to peak

It has been a glorious summer in Scotland's biggest city, the flowers are blooming but Singapore is still waiting for her "Madame Butterfly" to emerge.

Butterfly specialist Tao Li has been training in Florida since April with Sergio Lopez, the coach who made Joseph Schooling such a force in the Singapore men's team.

While the 24-year-old remains strong on the Asian swimming circuit, Tao has not shown much of her top form at Glasgow's Commonwealth Games so far.

Swimming in her pet event, the 50m butterfly, she finished joint-third in her heats and qualified for yesterday's semi-finals, which were set to take place after press time.

But Tao's time of 26.44sec would not have stood her in good stead against the top qualifiers - England's Francesca Halsall (25.64), Australia's Brittany Elmslie (26.18) and Canada's Katerine Savard (26.33).

However, the Singaporean believes that she will reach peak form in time for another major meet later this year - the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in September.

She said after yesterday's heats: "The Asian Games is my main focus for this year and I'm using the Commonwealth Games as a preparatory meet, so that my coach can better prepare me for Asian Games.

"I'm taking my races one step at a time and my focus right now is to get into the top eight at the Commonwealth Games, and then think of the next step in the final.

"My swim in the heats was not bad, given that I did not taper fully for this Games, while most people are tapered for this meet."

Tao has an excellent track record in her favourite stroke. She holds all the national butterfly records in the 50m, 100m and 200m and is gunning for a hat-trick of Asian Games golds in the 50m after previous wins in 2006 and 2010.

She was also Singapore's first finalist at an Olympics swimming event at Beijing in 2008.

As Lopez explained to The Straits Times yesterday, he had pushed Tao too hard during weight training, causing tiredness.

The sessions were necessary for the stocky swimmer, who stands at 1.6m and weighs 58kg, as she needs more power to overcome her bigger rivals.

That fatigue was evident in the women's 100m butterfly semi-finals on Thursday, when she finished 10th out of 16 swimmers overall (59.82) and failed to make the cut.

Tao lamented: "It was bad, I'm so disappointed and this is not what I want. I feel like I could hit 58 seconds but my legs just couldn't take me there."

Despite the setback, Tao is not giving up yet in Glasgow, showing her trademark resilience and confidence that have served her so well in her decorated swimming career.

"Of course, I still want a medal!" she exclaimed with a grin, as if she believes that it is only a matter of time before she blooms again.


This article was first published on July 27 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.