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Quah and Sim sisters earn historic swimming relay spot at Paris Olympics

The final day of the World Aquatics Championships brought a mixture of happiness and relief for Singapore national swimming coach Gary Tan, as he watched the women’s 4x100m medley relay team etch their names into the record books by qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The quartet, comprising two pairs of sisters – Quah Ting Wen and Jing Wen as well as Letitia and Levenia Sim – clocked 4min 2.88sec in the heats on Feb 18, finishing ninth overall and just missing out on the final. Poland were eighth fastest in 4:02.63 while the Canadians were the top qualifiers at the Aspire Dome in Doha in 3:58.63.

Their time was also a new national record, lowering the previous mark of 4:06.97 set at the Cambodia SEA Games in 2023.

Tan, 41, said he was overwhelmed by the two emotions. He added: “It’s a big milestone. We’ve been knocking on the door of every single edition of the world championships to get a relay team into the Olympic Games. But every time we fall short, of one spot or like point something (of a second).

“And when we saw the time we were like, you know, a sense of relief. It was something nine years coming I would say since I joined the national set-up.”

The Quahs and Sims needed to finish inside the top 13 of the 23 competing quartets to seal their spot in Paris, pending ratification by World Aquatics which will be announced on June 13.

They are Singapore’s first relay side to qualify for the Olympics on merit. Previously, the men’s relay teams were handed universality places to compete at both the Seoul 1988 and Atlanta 1996 Games.

At the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023, the same foursome were disqualified in the final – Ting Wen had dived too early during the final changeover – despite setting a time of 4:00.87 and the 31-year-old was thrilled with their latest effort.

She said: “I’m relieved, and happy too. Today was something I’ve been working really hard towards for the last three months, and I came here on a mission to do something great with my team.

“What went well today was that all four of us trusted one another to all be doing what we needed to do to swim fast, and that trust took away some of the fear of the outcome. I came here wanting to redeem myself after the disappointment at the Asian Games, and I hoped that I did my teammates proud.”

Tan added: “It’s been very, very tough trying to even get the relay team to be able to compete together after the emotional turmoil everyone went through during that time. To come out of that and actually get to where we are today, it’s an amazing feat.

“Under immense pressure at that point of time they did four minutes. Now we definitely are in a better condition to be able to beat that time. It’s a big win for us now. Four minutes in my opinion would give us a good opportunity to drop down to a 3:58 or 3:59 eventually. And if that happens we are competitive on a top-eight position as well.”

Aside from the women’s relay team, Tan was happy with the performances of the rest of his squad. Letitia (200m individual medley, 100m and 200m breaststroke), Teong Tzen Wei (50m butterfly) and Jing Wen (200m fly) reached the semi-finals of their respective events.