Singapore Sports School, Sunday, June 30, 2013 – The 9th Singapore National Swimming Championships came to an end yesterday, putting a close to the six-day meet which displayed the very best of local swimming.
Being a Southeast Asian (SEA) Games year, the championships served as the sole local qualifying meet for the biennial Games, breaking recent practice of having a qualifying window where swimmers could attempt to equal or better the previous Games’ bronze-medal winning time.
It was also the only meet where junior swimmers could make the cut for August’s FINA World Junior Championships in Dubai, and also the final opportunity for all swimmers to qualify for the FINA World Championships to be held at the end of this month in Barcelona.
With a looming deadline and limited places in team squads on offer, the swimmers rose to the challenge with several startling times and a plethora of records – 13 national open and age group marks – despite the unease and uncertainty of whether the meet would even take place at all, due to the hazardous air quality which plagued the country two weeks ago.
Here are five noteworthy storylines that emerged from the meet.
1. Darren Lim within touching distance of Ang Peng Siong’s 31-year-old national record
Darren twice lowered his national under-17 100m freestyle record, and with his 51.25s time in the final, he earned himself a place in his first ever SEA Games squad, behind national record holder Danny Yeo, but ahead of freestyle veterans such as Clement Lim and Russell Ong.
Two days later on June 29, as the Secondary Three student took off from his starting blocks in the 50m freestyle heats, it had already been 11,271 days since Ang Peng Siong set the national record of 22.69s at the United States Swimming Championships on August 20, 1982. Darren touched home just 0.04s slower than the oldest national swimming mark in the books.
Although Darren could not improve on it in the final, his 22.87s was still good enough for him to finish first and add another event to his SEA Games program, which looks likely to be the 50 and 100m freestyle along with the 4x100m freestyle relay.
To put into perspective how fast Darren is, he is a massive 0.74s quicker than the United States boys’ 13-14 years old record of 23.47s held by Michael Andrew, and just 0.01s off the 15-16 years old record of 22.72s set by Shayne Fleming.
Darren would have been ranked ninth fastest in a field of Olympic champions at the US National Championships that have just ended, and would have taken silver at last November’s Asian Swimming Championships. It would also have been good enough to win this event at every SEA Games save for 2009, when non-textile suits were not yet outlawed.
Before Darren gets a shot at the SEA Games gold in Myanmar, he will have ample opportunities to lower his time, and the national record, at the World Championships (July 28–August 4), the Asian Youth Games (Aug 16–24) and the World Junior Championships (Aug 26–31).
2. Quah Ting Wen’s return to the national fold
Ting Wen made her SEA Games debut way back in 2005 as a 13-year-old, and then had a heady year in 2009 when she won five gold medals at the SEA Games to add to her four at the Asian Youth Games. There were countless national open and age group records in between, as well as an appearance at the 2008 Olympic Games. However she failed to qualify for both the 2011 SEA Games as well as the London Olympics the following year.
Ting Wen recovered from a broken arm sustained in November 2011, and finished seventh in the women’s 100 yard butterfly final at the US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 Swimming championships in March. She swam encouraging times at the Santa Clara Grand Prix in May, and really hit form at the Nationals here.
She qualified for the Myanmar SEA Games in the 100 and 200m freestyle and won the two events with her fastest times since 2009 and 2010 respectively. Ting Wen also took over two seconds off her seven-year-old 200m butterfly personal best to win the final in 2 minutes 13.77 seconds, beating national record holder Tao Li in the process. This made Ting Wen the second fastest ever local swimmer in this event, and also qualified her for the Games.
Ting Wen’s fourth individual SEA Games event will be the 100m butterfly. She is one of only two swimmers who will take part in four events. She became just the third local swimmer to go below the one-minute mark, after Tao Li and Joscelin Yeo, when she finished second behind Tao Li in 59.92 seconds.
Ting Wen’s rise to prominence in the butterfly events also gives the medley relay team another possible permutation to work with.