Schooling and Zheng Wen bring out the best in each other
Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen acknowledged that their rivalry in the pool has brought out the best in each other, after both swimmers qualified for next year's Tokyo Olympics with their 1-2 finish in the SEA Games 100m butterfly final on Friday (Dec 6).
Racing next to each other in lanes four and five of the New Clark City Aquatic Center, Quah held a 0.28sec lead at the turn. But Schooling produced a magnificent finish in the last 10 metres to win in 51.84sec, pipping Quah by a mere 0.03 seconds. Vietnam's Le Nguyen Paul was third in 53.89sec.
Quah's 51.87sec effort – his personal best – was enough for him to join Schooling in meeting the Olympics "A" qualifying mark of 51.96sec.
Just minutes later, Quah, 23, was back in the pool, retaining his 200m backstroke title in a Games record of 2min 0.06sec. Then, together with Darren Chua, Jonathan Tan and Schooling, he won his fourth gold medal of the Games in the 4x100m freestyle relay, also in a Games record of 3min 16.82sec.
On Wednesday, the same quartet had also won the 4x200m freestyle relay, after Quah met the Olympic qualifying mark for the 100m backstroke by winning the event in 53.79sec.
Said Quah, a third-year student at the University of California, Berkeley: "It's always fun racing Joe, I haven't raced him in a while. He's back home... and I'm in California. But I always know he's working hard over here... We did a good job pushing each other to get that 'A' cut."
Schooling, 24, shared similar sentiments, saying: "Like Zheng Wen said, it's always fun to get up and race against each other. Haven't done that in a while. I don't think I'd have gone as fast as I did if I didn't have this guy next to me.
"For him to come up and step up for three events for tonight and do best times... back to back and in the span of like an hour and 10 (minutes), that's pretty darn impressive.
"So kudos to him, he's been having the best meet out of all of us so far, and we're just trying to follow his example.
"But the most important thing was to get that 'A' cut and now, we have a seven-month period, we've got some time and I'm happy to be able to accomplish what I've set out to do tonight."
While Schooling's effort was still some way off from his Olympic-winning time of 50.39sec in 2016, it's a marked improvement compared to the 52.93sec that he clocked at the World Championships in July.
In the women's 50m breaststroke, Christie Chue won the bronze with her personal best of 31.43sec, which saw her finish behind Malaysia's Phee Jinq En (31.40) and Thailand's Jenjira Srisa-Ard (31.41).
Chue, 19, who won the 200m breaststroke title the previous day, admitted that she had rushed in the last 10 metres.
When asked about being just 0.03sec behind the winner, she said: "I didn't really think about it because I know I still lack a little bit in strength and I still can't really sprint, so I'm still working on it. But I think overall the time, I'm still really happy about it."