It's between Schooling or Nguyen for the star of the Games
Schooling and Nguyen will vie for top individual honour at these Games
The smile disappeared, teeth hidden behind tightly pursed lips. For the first time at the SEA Games, Nguyen Thi Anh Vien's voiced quivered - in disappointment.
The 18-year-old will leave the Games with eight gold medals from 12 events, but she ended the meet at the OCBC Aquatic Centre last night with a defeat that clearly stung.
She was soundly beaten by Singapore's pocket dynamo, Tao Li, in the women's 100m butterfly on the final day of competition, finishing a distant sixth in 1min 1.53sec, as Tao Li romped to victory in 59.79.
The curtain came down on Nguyen's Games, leaving the Vietnamese just one gold shy of Singapore fly boy Joseph Schooling, who scored a perfect nine from nine outings in the pool - and all in record times.
Schooling may tip the scales in sheer numbers, but to call him the outright star of the pool, or these Games, even, would be to overlook the size of the task undertaken by Nguyen and the way she executed it.
Indeed, even Singapore national coach Sergio Lopez was hard pressed to make the call.
"Star of the Games? It'll have to be between Joe and Vien, the Vietnamese girl. I take my hat off to her for what she did," said Lopez. "What she did was special... she's an excellent swimmer who has been improving by leaps and bounds."
"But there were many special people," he added, throwing up a few names, including Singapore's Quah siblings - Ting Wen and Zheng Wen.
But surely Nguyen and Schooling lead that list.
She was registered for 12 events, across all four swim strokes, and without a team behind her, had no relay events in which to add to her medal collection.
Schooling had three relays, backed by a solid crew of swimmers from the Singapore bullpen.
Perhaps there is no need to find that distinction between quantity in results and quality of effort, merely a need to sit back and gaze in awe at the two who have lit up these Games with what are extraordinary efforts.
They are from different worlds, follow different paths, but are united in not one, but two aspects - their reluctance to settle for second best, and their drive for something bigger.
"I'm happy that I got nine golds and nine Games' records. But I could have done something better, better times," said Schooling. "There is definitely room for improvement."
Schooling's eyes have always been set on the Olympics.
"It wasn't like this was easy here, I could've had a bad race, or someone could have flown off the blocks and beaten me, especially in the shorter races where there's very little room for error.
"I take heart from the fact that I met my targets here, but this is a small stepping stone to the Olympics," he said.
Schooling's Games ended in all smiles, Nguyen's didn't.
"In the 100m butterfly I was very tired. I really wanted to win, but I was very tired.
"I did very bad," she said, lips quivering. "I think yes, maybe I tried to swim too many (races)."
But Nguyen's eyes, too, are trained on bigger things.
"I hope I can swim better, in a world or Olympic final, maybe in the 400m Individual Medley."
It was the same lesson learnt, the same cementing of targets, in sweet victory, and also in defeat.
Nguyen got out of the pool and licked her wounds, Schooling just wanted to get away.
"I hate the word swimming now. I don't want to see a pool for a while. But I will start going at it again - later."
9 GOLDS; 9 GAMES RECORD
- 50m freestyle (22.47 Games record)
- 100m freestyle (48.58, Games record)
- 50m butterfly (23.49 Games record)
- 100m butterfly (52.13 Games record)
- 200m butterfly (1:55.73 Games record)
- 200m individual medley (2:00.66 Games record)
- 4x100m freestyle relay (3:19.59 Games record)
- 4x200m freestyle relay (7:18.14 Games record)
- 4x100m medley relay (3:38.25 Games record)
NGUYEN THI ANH VIEN
8 GOLDS; 7 GAMES RECORDS
- 200m freestyle (1:59.27 Games record)
- 400m freestyle (4:08.66 Games record)
- 800m freestyle (8:34.85 Games record)
- 200m butterfly (2:11.12 Games record)
- 200m breaststroke (2:31.16)
- 200m backstroke (2:14.12 Games record)
- 200m individual medley (2:13.53 Games record)
- 400m individual medley (4:42.88 Games record)