April 13, 2023
SINGAPORE – In what is a crucial year for many Singapore athletes, with the SEA Games and Asian Games coming up, and the Olympic qualification window open, Singapore’s fastest swimmer Teong Tzen Wei wants his teammates to be “killers”.
The 25-year-old has been slaying it, producing a number of astonishing swims that include winning the SEA Games 50m freestyle gold in May 2022 in a national-record 21.93sec, which is under the 2024 Olympic qualification time.
In the subsequent months, he reached the World Championships 50m butterfly final with another national best of 23.03sec and finished second in the same event at the Commonwealth Games.
There was a blip in his career when he was one of three national swimmers suspended from training for a month after admitting to consuming a controlled drug overseas.
But he bounced back at the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) in December by lowering the national 50m free record to 21.09sec, two days after setting an Asian mark of 22.01sec in the 50m butterfly.
At the Singapore Swimming Association media day on Wednesday, Teong told The Straits Times that he has found his groove over the past year.
He said: “I’ve always felt successful people have three things – a superiority complex to feel they can do better than others that pulls them forward, a sense of insecurity to fear that they are not good enough to push them from behind, and impulse control to string everything together to lead them on the right path.
“In the past, I’ve had the first two elements, but I had very little impulse control because it takes a lot of willpower, discipline and learning how to battle your own inner demons to get there.”
Before the previous SEA Games in 2022, Teong finally knuckled down. Not only did he start to eat healthier – avoiding seed oils and fried food – but he also makes sure he gets enough quality sleep.
He elaborated: “A lot of people still think as long as they train hard, they will miraculously get faster. But the fact is, if you want to get stronger and faster, you have to break things down and rebuild.
“After a few months of clean eating, I had some fried chicken while I was on a break and immediately fell sick.
“I took it as a sign that if I ate unheathily, my body will build a tolerance for unhealthy food to the point I don’t know that it’s causing me a lot of problems. It is about staying consistent.
“Also, no more late nights, recovery means recovery. In the past, if I have the morning off, it means I sleep later at 11pm. Now, even if I have the morning off, I still sleep at 9pm, because it gives me more time to recover.
“Not everybody may agree with my methods, but they are working for me and this is reflected in my performances. At the upcoming SEA Games, my target is Olympic qualification.”
National coach Gary Tan is happy to watch his protege do well. He feels that Teong has it in him to become one of the national team’s leaders.
He said: “Tzen Wei cares about nurturing the young swimmers, and he wants to be an inspiration, even if he has yet to show a full range of leadership qualities, which we hope he can develop.”
While Teong does not set out to be a leader of the team, he is happy to mentor young teammates if they look to him for advice.
He added: “If they ask me how they can improve, I’m going to be on their case non-stop, I’m going to be the bad guy and I’m going to hold them accountable.
“Leaders may just want everyone to be a team and be cohesive, but I want everyone to be killers and, if I can wake up just one out of 100, I can really change their lives.”
One of those whom he has positively influenced is breaststroke specialist and SEA Games rookie Nicholas Mahabir, who is younger than Teong by eight years.
The 17-year-old, who has abstained from dessert for over 200 days, said: “Tzen Wei is a really smart individual, and I definitely learnt a lot of things outside the pool from him.”
Tan hopes such camaraderie and determination can spur his team to better their best performance of 23 golds achieved at the 2015 and 2019 Games. He said: “There were some near misses last year when we won 21 golds and 44 medals. Amanda (Lim) and (Quah) Ting Wen will want to reclaim the women’s 50m free for us.
“The women’s team are more aged than than the men’s, but they also bring a lot of experience, and we have the likes of (Gan) Ching Hwee, (Quah) Jing Wen and Letitia (Sim) stepping up.
“We are recovering from a big wave of flu and viruses, but we are getting back into the right head space. I want them to make this count and not be complacent.”