SINGAPORE: A bleak outlook awaits swimming when the SEA Games return to Malaysia in 2017.
The likes of Alex Lim Keng Liat, Anthony Ang, Elvin Chia and Sia Wai Yen ruled the pool when Malaysia last hosted the Games in 2001.
And who can forget the likes of Nurul Huda Abdullah, May Tan and Jeffrey Ong further back in the 1989 edition – also in Kuala Lumpur?
But the good times have sadly ended.
Thirty-eight events were contested in Singapore, and Malaysia only managed to win three gold medals – all by youngsters Phee Jinq En (women’s 100m breaststroke), Wong Fu Kang (men’s 100m breaststroke) and Welson Sim (men’s 400m freestyle).
The same number of events are likely to be contested in Kuala Lumpur in two years’ time, but it’s unlikely that we’ll have a golden harvest – not with Vietnam making giant strides to join Singapore as the region's top swimming powers.
Seniors like Khoo Cai Lin and Kevin Yeap were outpaced by their rivals in their main events in Singapore and are unlikely to make up ground in the middle and long distance events in two years time.
Eighteen-year-old Nguyen Thi Anh dominated women’s swimming in Singapore with eight golds from 12 events. Seven of them were in Games record times, a fantastic achievement considering that she won across all swim strokes. She was denied the chance to add to her medal collection as she did not have a team behind her, thus Vietnam’s absence from the relay events.
Cai Lin pulled out from the 800m freestyle on the first day of competition due to tonsillitis but there was no way the national record holder – 8:45.36 – could have stopped Nguyen from winning – in a new Games record of 8:34.85.
Cai Lin’s SEA Games record of 4:10.75 in the 400m freestyle also disappeared on Wednesday as she settled for silver, behind Nguyen (4:08.66).
Kevin only focused on the 1,500m freestyle but he had no answer to Lam Quang Nhat’s pace on Wednesday.
The 17-year-old Vietnamese set a new Games record of 15:31.03.
And who hasn’t heard of the exploits of home boy Joseph Schooling here.
The 18-year-old, who is the face of the Singapore SEA Games, enjoyed a perfect outing with nine golds from as many events – and all in new Games record times!
The scary thing for Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia is that the swimmers from Vietnam and Singapore, who enjoyed their best-ever SEA Games campaign with 23 golds, are young and yet to reach their full potential.
The likes of Anh Vien, Schooling and his team-mate Quah Zheng Wen, who splashed to seven golds, are capable of going faster as they continue to bulk up.
Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (Asum) secretary Mae Chen, though, is hoping that youngsters Jinq En, Welson and Fu Kang will improve in two years’ time.
“Jinq En and Fu Kang, along with Shaun Yap, are going to be our main hopes in breaststroke events,” she said.
“Welson will be a good prospect for the 200m and 400m freestyle in two years’ time. They’re still young and can improve as their bodies get stronger.”