Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Saturday, December 14, 2013 – It wasn’t exactly a Friday-the-13th horror show, but Friday’s swimming finals session at the 27th Southeast Asian Games – when Team Singapore won only one of the several winnable gold medals at stake – demanded a response of sorts.
They provided one, and it was one befitting of a country that has been the top swimming nation in the region for four consecutive SEA Games, and counting.
Just as Thailand had staked a claim for overall honours by winning four of the seven events on Friday, Team Singapore responded in kind, led by veteran Tao Li, who won her 22nd and 23rd SEA Games gold medals.
She defended her 100 metres backstroke and butterfly titles with solid swims to outclass her opposition. In the former event, she clocked 1 minute 2.47 seconds to beat back the challenge of Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, the face of Vietnamese swimming, by 0.29 seconds. It was the third fastest ever local time, with Tao Li’s 1:01.60 national open record and 1:02.11 SEA Games mark as the only faster swims in the books.
It was her fifth consecutive SEA Games gold in this event, with her time meeting the ‘B’ qualifying mark for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Meagan Lim finished fourth, but her time of 1:05.22 was a new personal best and moved her past Bernadette Lee and Lynette Ng to fourth place on the all-time local list.
In the 100m butterfly held two races after the 100m backstroke, Tao Li clocked 59.87s to complete her fourth straight 100m back-fly double. Quah Ting Wen claimed her 10th SEA Games silver medal – nearly accounting for half of her 21 total medals – by finishing second in 1:00.34, her second fastest time ever.
Both Tao Li and Ting Wen met the Commonwealth Games ‘B’ qualifying mark of 1:00.63.
Joseph Schooling, like Tao Li, also won two golds on the night. His win in the 100m butterfly was widely expected, but still had to be earned. Indonesia’s Fauzi Triady led at the turn, but Joseph surged to an unassailable lead in the back 50m to touch home in 52.67 seconds, a new Games record and his fourth-fastest time ever. It also bettered the ‘A’ qualifying mark for the Commonwealth Games.
Rainer Ng was seventh in 56.18s, his fastest time of the year.
Joseph then took to the pool as part of the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team that had the historical burden of six consecutive wins on their shoulders, and they delivered brilliantly. Clement Lim – without having an individual event to his name in his three SEA Games but absolutely rock-solid in the relays – provided the perfect start for the team. He touched home in 50.68s to give them the advantage over Triady and the Indonesians, who were eventually disqualified.
Danny Yeo (50.83s) and Darren Lim (51.65s) swam faster times then what they could manage in the individual 100m freestyle event on Friday.
Clement’s performance was eerily similar to that in 2011. Back then, he had also led the relay team off with a 50.68s-swim. It was a new national open record then, and faster than what Danny and Russell Ong – Singapore’s representatives in the individual event – could manage. It was also what gave him the nod to swim in the freestyle leg of the 4x100m medley relay final then.
Danny and Darren followed with solid splits of 50.57 and 50.77 – the eighth and 18th fastest locally – before Joseph completed the dominant display with a stupendous 49.72s-leg. It eclipsed Russell’s 50.12s as the fastest local relay leg of all time, and put the cap on a marvelous 3:21.74 effort by the quartet.
It smashed the Games and national open marks of 3:23.22 set in 2009.
This was the second national open record of the night to be rewritten. In the men’s 100m backstroke, Quah Zheng Wen gave defending champion and overwhelming favourite I Gede Siman Sudartawa all that he could handle. The Indonesian managed to hold Zheng Wen off and touched home in 55.80s, with Zheng Wen finishing in 56.11s. It broke his own national open mark of 56.60s set in June this year.
In other events, Rachel Tseng followed up her personal best in Friday’s 400m freestyle with another in the 800m freestyle. She clocked a fifth-placed time of 9:00.20 to move to fourth in the all-time local list behind Ting Wen, Junie Sng and Lynette Lim, who placed fourth in the final.
Singapore have now won eight gold, four silver and five bronze medals in swimming. Thailand have 4-5-5, while Indonesia are third on 3-4-5.
Results (Finals only)
Men’s 400m freestyle: Teo Zhen Ren 4:01.44 (6th, season’s best); Pang Sheng Jun 4:05.07 (7th)
Men’s 100m backstroke: Quah Zheng Wen 56.11s (Silver, national open record); Rainer Ng 57.64s (4th)
Men’s 100m butterfly: Joseph Schooling 52.67s (Gold, SEA Games record); Rainer Ng 56.18s (7th, SB)
Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay: 3:21.74 (Gold, SEA Games and national open record) [Clement Lim 50.68 (equal PB), Danny Yeo 50.57, Darren Lim 50.77, Joseph Schooling 49.72]
Women’s 100m backstroke: Tao Li 1:02.47 (Gold, SB); Meagan Lim 1:05.22 (4th, PB)
Women’s 100m butterfly: Tao Li 59.87s (Gold); Quah Ting Wen 1:00.34 (Silver)
Women’s 800m freestyle: Lynette Lim 8:59.39 (4th); Rachel Tseng 9:00.20 (5th, PB)