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SEA Games 2023: Age is only a number as Quah Ting Wen keeps winning

PHNOM PENH – These are Quah Ting Wen’s ninth SEA Games, so nothing much fazes her any more. Not even when the power in their apartment floor of the athletes’ village trips six or seven times.

But even she was taken aback in the call room before her 100m freestyle final on Monday night.

Using sign language because of the language barrier, she gestured at Nguyen Thuy Hien with her fingers to check she was really only 13 years old.

Upon confirmation from the Vietnamese, Quah groaned and switched the numbers around. “Me? 31 this year.”

Nevertheless, age triumphed over youth as Quah beat the teen, winning in 55.83 seconds at Phnom Penh’s Morodok Techo Aquatics Centre.

Another veteran, the Philippines’ Jasmine Alkhaldi, 28, was second in 56.12sec with Hien third in 56.42sec.

Quah said: “Watching her (Hien) walk out to the blocks, I got a bit emotional. It brought me back to my first Games in Manila in 2005. That was the beginning for me and now to watch these younger kids begin their own careers, it’s heart-warming. She’s cute as well. Did you see the whole field? We’re like all at least a head taller than her.”

This was her fifth straight victory in the event, dating back to the 2015 edition in Singapore, and her 28th gold overall. It is a resume of undeniable consistency, one that Quah is proud of but also reflective about.

She said: “I try not to think about something like that during a Games, but it has definitely been on my mind a little bit more. People do ask me what my plans are. I don’t think it’s pressure for me to think what comes after, but it does make me look forward.

“Swimming is mostly what I’ve known for the last 20 years, so it’s nerve racking but also exciting to see what comes next.”

While her future is uncertain, Quah – after completing the routine doping tests, returned to the diving pool to put in a few warm-down laps – is also focused on the present. She has three individual events left.

“It’s day three. I’ve only just started and have a big few days ahead.”

Teammate Gan Ching Hwee meanwhile, is compiling her own collection of gold. The 19-year-old won the 400m free to add to the 200m title she clinched on Sunday.

At the Hanoi Games in 2022, she swept four events, from 200m up to 1,500m.

She clocked 4min 15.17sec to hold off teammate Ashley Lim (4:17.16) and Thai Kamonchanok Kwanmuang (4:17.55).

Gan said: “I’ll take anything I can. I came here with the goal of touching the wall first and I did that. But there’s a lot more to be improved on.”

The best was saved for last as the quartet of Quah Zheng Wen, Nicholas Mahabir, Teong Tzen Wei and Jonathan Tan – combining in a relay for the first time – set a Games record of 3:37.45 to win the 4x100m medley ahead of Thailand (3:41.75) and Indonesia (3:41.92).

The previous mark of 3:37.46 was also set by the Republic at the 2017 edition in Kuala Lumpur.

Teong said: “This is quite a spectacular foursome that we have and I want to thank all the Singaporeans in the stands cheering for us.”

Mahabir, making his Games debut at 17, had finished second in the 100m breaststroke on Sunday. He said: “Last night was tough but it was a good learning experience. I’m glad to win my first gold and to do it with these guys is special.”