27 March 17 The Straits Times by NICOLE CHIA
Singapore swimmer Quah Zheng Wen proved yesterday morning (Singapore time) that he has what it takes to challenge the United States' top collegiate swimmers, ending his maiden National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) outing with a silver in the 200-yard butterfly race.
The 20-year-old clocked 1min38.83sec to finish second in the final at the NCAA Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships in Indiana.
Jack Conger of the University of Texas (UT) won the race in 1:37.35, while the University of Georgia's Gunnar Bentz was third (1:40.07).
Quah's NCAA eligibility was confirmed about two weeks before the March 22-25 meet, as 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 Singaporean, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, paid tribute to his school for guiding him throughout the process of seeking approval.
Quah, who also finished fifth in the 100-yd butterfly final on Saturday, said: "I've been told that this is the craziest meet ever, and it's great to experience it first-hand. It is a pretty incredible experience.
Being here and able to race some of the best swimmers in the nation, and beating some of them is an incredible feeling.
QUAH ZHENG WEN, summing up his first appearance at the NCAA meet.
"Being here and able to race some of the best swimmers in the nation, and beating some of them is an incredible feeling.
"It is important to believe in yourself. You've got to take risks, and the results may not always be guaranteed, but at least you gave it a shot."
Compatriot Joseph Schooling may have failed to retain his 200-yard butterfly title after crashing out in the heats owing to illness, but the 21-year-old UT junior managed to bounce back in style yesterday.
He anchored the Texas Longhorns to the 400-yd freestyle relay title with a new NCAA record of 2:45.39.
The title was UT's 11th of the meet, as the Longhorns won the overall NCAA Swimming and Diving Champions for the third straight year with 542 points.
They also set three NCAA records en route to sweeping gold in all four relays they swam in - the 200- and 400-yd medley, as well as the 200- and 400-yd freestyle.
Schooling, who featured in all four relays, said: "Four out of four is a perfect outcome ... That pulled us ahead from the rest of the teams. To me, it is the relays that sets the teams apart and as a team we delivered.
"This meet was all about us as a team and without a doubt, we came and delivered what we needed to do here. I am proud of the team and it will be pretty hard to beat this year's team performance."
The 100m butterfly Olympic champion was second in the 100-yd fly, where he was the two-time defending champion, and third in the 50-yd freestyle.
"It could have been a better meet for me with regards to my individual events. It didn't help that I was down with fever before the 100 fly, but I managed to get by that day," he added.
"It got worse and I was contemplating scratching the 200 fly but I didn't want to let the team down by not being able to swim in the 400-yd freestyle relay. Glad that we won the race and took the NCAA record as well."
Schooling also congratulated Quah, saying: "Definitely good to see him swim in the NCAA and he will get better from here."
Quah's timing in the 200-yd fly final ranked him third on the list of all-time top performers in the event, behind Schooling (1:37.97) and Conger.
Said the Singapore Swimming Association's technical director Sonya Porter: "Finishing second in a time that ranks him third all-time in this event is only going to keep him hungry to win that race in the years to come."