Pang Sheng Jun ends wait for first individual SEA Games swimming medal

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Singapore's Pang Sheng Jun (L) and Quah Zheng Wen (R) celebrate winning silver and gold in the 400m Individual medley at the 28th SEA Games. Photo: SINGSOC/Action Images via Reuters

He has been to the last three SEA Games, but national swimmer Pang Sheng Jun has never won an individual medal.

Two fourth-placings in the 200 and 400-metre individual medley on his debut in the 2009 SEA Games was followed by a disappointing fifth place in the 400m freestyle two years later, which depressed him so much that he thought of taking his own life after the race.

Pang picked up a team gold in as part of the Games recording-breaking display in the 4x200m freestyle in 2013, but that solo medal continued to elude him as he finished sixth in the 400m IM and failed to even make the 200 IM final.

At long last
But the 22-year-old finally got the podium finish he had craved for on Tuesday night at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, clinching silver in the 400m IM on the fourth day of swimming competition at the 28th SEA Games.

“It definitely feels good! It (the Games) being on home ground feels a lot different and I felt that I needed to do well because there was so much support from all the Singaporeans,” said Pang after the victory ceremony.

He could not stop smiling and it was no wonder, after the way he came back from being fourth at the 200m mark to put in strong breaststroke and freestyle legs to earn silver in a personal best time of 4m24.81s.

Pang was especially fueled by the home crowd, who called out his name and made him like he “had to do it” for the country.

“All the Singaporeans were shouting so loudly that I could really hear it in the pool,” he recalled with awe.

“Swimmers don’t really hear the cheers from the crowd but this time, after every turn, I could hear the crowd cheering so I was like, ‘no, I cannot let Singapore down’ so that gave me the extra motivation to go harder.”

Singapore break 50 gold-medal record haul
History was also made in that particular race as Quah Zheng Wen’s win made it 51 golds in this Games for Singapore, breaking the nation’s previous record haul of 50 in 1993 - the last time Singapore was host.

Singapore's Pang Sheng Jun (L) and Quah Zheng Wen (R) celebrate winning silver and gold in the 400m Individual medley at the 28th SEA Games. Photo: SINGSOC/Action Images via Reuters

“I am definitely really proud to have the honour of making Singapore’s history,” said the 18-year-old, who won his fifth gold in the pool in 4m23.50. 

“I'm just really glad I could be a part of it, especially with these guys as a part of these games. It’s really amazing that we are making waves and making history for Singapore.”

One race earlier, Tao Li had snagged the record-tying 50th gold in the 100m backstroke - her sixth triumph in a row, dating back to her Games debut in 2005.

“I've represented Singapore for the past 10 years and I didn’t lose any of these events… so I'm happy and honoured to win this gold medal,” said the 25-year-old, who clocked 1m02.67.

The men made it 15 swimming golds for Singapore in total by the night’s end. Joseph Schooling took the 100m butterfly in a new Games mark of 52.13s, while the 4x100m freestyle relay team of Schooling, Zheng Wen, Danny Yeo and Clement Lim finished almost six seconds ahead of Malaysia.

That in 3:19.59 time was a new meet and national record, while it was also the eighth consecutive triumph in the event for Singapore.

Six golds apiece for Schooling and Vietnamese swim queen

Clip: Ánh Viên đoạt HCV thứ 6, phá kỷ lục SEA Games thứ 7

Schooling, who has now won all six of his events and set seven new Games records, acknowledged that his 100m fly time was a little “slower than expected” but is looking forward to his final three events – the 50m fly, 200m IM and 4x100m medley relay.

“I’ve just got to get more rest. It was my fifth and sixth event today in three days and that’s a lot… hopefully I can win both my events tomorrow and finish off that relay,” he asserted.

The 19-year-old also had praise for Vietnam’s female swim sensation Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who has also won six golds in Games record times, in addition to a silver and a bronze.

The 18-year-old, who won two races on the night, dropped the 100m backstroke event due to the tight scheduling according to her coach, is set to be involved in three more events.

“I trained with her for a bit at Bolles [School] in Jacksonville, Florida,” Schooling revealed. “I see her work ethic finally paying off and I'm really happy for her.”