Zheng Wen bags historic 51st gold for Singapore with 400m IM win
Zheng Wen takes Singapore's first step into new territory at the SEA Games
Quah Ting Wen stood in the middle of a horde of journalists huddled around the television sets next to the mixed zone, still in her swimsuit, still dripping from her exertions in the training pool.
Her hands were clasped nervously in front of her chest, then above her head, then down to her waist, and back to her chest again.
Her eyes were trained on the television - like the rest of the country - willing her younger brother Zheng Wen to victory.
"Ooh, ooh, c'mon," she mumbled to herself, as her 18-year-old brother's two-body length lead in the men's 400m individual medley was cut to just half a body length after the breaststroke leg.
"Ooh, ooh... yes!" she exclaimed as he stayed the course in the freestyle to touch the wall first.
The younger Quah came home in four minutes 23.50 seconds, ahead of compatriot Pang Sheng Jun (4:28.81) and Vietnam's Tran Duy Khoi (4:26.29).
He didn't break any records, but this win made history - it was Singapore's 51st gold medal at the SEA Games.
Singapore won 50 gold medals the last time the Games were hosted here, in 1993.
That was the biggest haul at a single Games, until now.
And there are seven more days of competition.
"I'm definitely proud to have the honour of winning Singapore's 51st gold medal, it's really memorable," said Zheng Wen.
"I think it's a blessing that we are making waves and making history."
Perhaps it was appropriate that it was veteran swimmer Tao Li who secured the record-equalling 50th - managing it in the women's 100m backstroke - before handing the honour to Quah, a swimmer of the next generation.
Tao Li, 25, won in 1:02.67, beating Indonesia's Anak Agung Istri Kania Ratih (1:04.38) and Roxanne Yu of the Philippines (1:04.80).
"Before we swam, the announcer said that I've won this event for the past 10 years - of course I had to win this," she said.
She was asked about being overshadowed by teammate Joseph Schooling, who has hogged the headlines here, but her words also seemed appropriate for gold No. 51.
"I've been there for the past 10 years and it is time for a younger swimmer to make the headlines," said Tao.
"I'm just glad to still be able to swim and win for the country, to make Singapore proud."
It was perhaps also fitting that golds No. 50 and 51 were both won in the pool, the arena that has flown the flag for the Republic proudly at every Games.
Co-chef de mission (CDM) Tan Eng Liang was beaming as he addressed the media at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
"We're extremely delighted that Tao Li got the 50th. The pressure was on to get it - the minimum was to hit this target, and it was quite appropriate that it was achieved in the pool - swimming is the best example of a sport that has over-performed," the 76-year-old said.
Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy echoed the sentiments.
"It was very appropriate that 50 and 51 were here. Swimming has been a significant part of the SEA Games in terms of medals, and we are at a brand new centre where many records have been broken, and many more will be broken in the future," he said.
The Republic's other CDM, Nicholas Fang, hopes the record-breaking feat will propel Singapore sport to a higher level, and not just stay as an achievement at a Games hosted here in the country's 50th year of independence.
"We've not had a chance for a home SEA Games in a long time... and one thing that is different is that we've got great hardware, and great facilities now," he said.
"We have done better than ever before, and I hope we don't just wait for the next time the SEA Games comes here to do this well, again," said Fang, who issued a battle cry to all athletes who have yet to step out onto the arena.
"We've got seven days to go, and I hope that the athletes who are starting to compete now don't take their foot off the pedal."
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