07 March 17 The Straits Times by CHUA SIANG YEE
Weeks of waiting on the sidelines culminated in a sensational swim for Quah Zheng Wen, as he finally got approval from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to compete for the University of California, Berkeley.
Yesterday, at the Pac-12 Invitational held in Federal Way, Washington, the 20-year-old finished the 200-yard butterfly in an NCAA 'A' qualifying time of 1min 40.36sec to post the second-fastest time of the season. The University of Texas' (UT) Jack Conger holds the top time of 1:39.17.
This also means the Singaporean will go head-to-head with national team-mate and Olympic champion Joseph Schooling at the March 22-25 NCAA Div 1 swimming championships in Indiana.
Schooling, who swims for UT, is the reigning NCAA 200-yard fly champion. He also holds the championship record of 1:37.97.
In a statement, Quah said: "I am very appreciative of the opportunity to compete in the upcoming NCAA season and would like to thank everyone for all their support. I look forward to racing my best with the Cal Bears."
In an interview with swimming website Swimswam, Cal Bears coach David Durden called his protege "a really impressive kid". The four-time NCAA Coach of the Year added: "We were trying to have him for all of our spring season. It's tough for any kid who has to sit out for any reason... it's a tough process and he's handled it very well."
Quah also clocked NCAA 'B' qualifying times in the 100-yard fly (46.77sec) and 100-yard backstroke (47.05sec).
Athletes with 'A' times can compete in events in which they have clocked 'B' times - should their college choose to field them.
This means Quah could also meet Schooling in the 100-yard fly. The latter is also the event's reigning champion and holds the meet record of 44.01sec.
Quah left for the United States in January but needed clearance from the NCAA to swim for the Cal Bears.
There were questions over his amateur status, given that he is a brand ambassador for Liberty Insurance. NCAA rules forbid athletes from accepting financial assistance based on athletic skills or participation.
The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) said the NCAA finally gave the go-ahead on Sunday.
An SSA spokesman said: "We congratulate Zheng Wen and his family on this wonderful news and wish him all the best with the Cal Bears in the upcoming NCAA season."