Zheng Wen goes under Olympic 'A' qualifying mark for 200m fly
Quah Zheng Wen's star keeps rising and rising.
Just a week after he set two new national and six meet records at the Singapura Finance 46th Singapore National Age-Group Championships, he became the first Singaporean go under an Olympic 'A' qualifying time within Fina's qualifying period starting from March 1.
The 18-year-old won the 200m butterfly final at the Spanish Open in Malaga on Saturday in 1:56.85, under the Olympic 'A' qualifying time of 1:56.97.
While Zheng Wen's time is marginally behind Joseph Schooling's national record of 1:56.27, it is the sixth fastest in the world this year and faster than Schooling's bronze-winning time of 1:57.54 set at last year's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Incredibly, he shaved almost three seconds off his personal best of 1:59.66 set in last month's time trials.
And national swimming coach Sergio Lopez feels that Zheng Wen is ready to go even faster.
The 46-year-old Spaniard told The New Paper yesterday: "He can go as far as he wants.
"He has improved by almost three seconds on his best time and it's very important that he has gone under the Olympic 'A' qualifying time.
"Zheng Wen is a very talented swimmer and his previous coaches have done a good job.
"Now it's up to him to keep training. I will teach him at a higher level and help him to understand that he belongs at a higher level.
"There are European and American swimmers who may be bigger, but he can be faster."
Singaporeans can look forward to an epic showdown between Zheng Wen and Schooling as they could go head-to-head in the 100m freestyle, 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly events at the SEA Games in June.
Zheng Wen has qualified for a whopping nine individual events, three more than Schooling, and the duo will also combine for the freestyle and medley relays.
Beyond the SEA Games, Lopez has always urged his swimmers to aim for the global stage and he is naturally pleased that Zheng Wen has joined Schooling and Tao Li in meeting Olympic 'A' qualifying times.
"Before, it was just Schooling and Tao Li; now we have Zheng Wen. This can only be good for Singapore swimming to show the young swimmers that it is possible," he said.
With a world-class coach like Lopez and the new OCBC Aquatic Centre, Zheng Wen may not need to venture overseas like some of his predecessors have done to prepare for the Olympics.
However, it is not immediately clear whether he would qualify for deferment from National Service, as he is now of enlistment age, so that he can train and concentrate on doing well at next year's Rio Olympics.
Lopez would only say: "This is something we will have to discuss with Mindef."