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Teo making waves in US swim meets

SINGAPORE — While national swimmer Joseph Schooling continues to rake in the accolades in the United States, his close pal Teo Zhen Ren is also quietly making waves in another part of the country.

Teo making waves in US swim meets

Teo Zhen Ren (left) with Joseph Schooling. Photo: Adrian Seetho

SINGAPORE — While national swimmer Joseph Schooling continues to rake in the accolades in the United States, his close pal Teo Zhen Ren is also quietly making waves in another part of the country.

The 22-year-old Singaporean was recently named Athlete of the Year for men’s swimming and diving at Santa Monica College in California, where he is a freshman. Teo took a whopping 15 gold medals in six swim meets to emerge as his school’s best swimmer this season.

What made it more impressive is that Teo — who moved to the US last August — only made the switch from distance swimming to sprints while at Santa Monica.

“It wasn’t easy coming to the US and try out college swimming, but I love it so far. You have racing almost every week,” said Teo, who was once a promising swimmer back in 2012, before niggling shoulder injuries hampered his progress. “It has been quite a bumpy ride as far as my swimming career is concerned. I’ve thought about retirement twice, too.

“Swimming in the States is definitely a new phase in my life. I am taking it one step at a time, and will be looking towards the 2017 SEA Games next. The 2020 Olympics would be a dream of course, but I have to be at a stage where I can put my full focus on it, and train full-time.”

In 2012, Teo gained prominence as a talented 17-year-old swimmer after rewriting the 1,500m freestyle record four times in less than a year. But that year also marked the last time he set both the 800m and 1,500m free national marks. Both records are still standing today.

During the tough times, Teo finds inspiration in his best friend, Schooling. The duo have known each other since 2001 when they both swam at the Singapore Island Country Club.

“I almost joined The Bolles School with Joseph then, and could perhaps have developed into a better swimmer. However, my parents couldn’t make the sacrifice of having the family live apart — something which Joseph’s parents could,” said Teo.

“At that time, no one knew that moving to Bolles could pay off in this huge way for Joseph. But I have no regrets. My memories in Singapore were some of the best moments I have.”

While Teo was unable to move to the States, he did go for a six-month overseas trip to Australia in 2011 to train with China’s world record holder Sun Yang, under the tutelage of Australian Denis Cotterell. He achieved the Olympic “B” timing in the 1,500m for the 100m free but eventually missed the cut. “But Joseph kept me going. We trash-talk each other all the time. He would say my times aren’t even near his, and I would say he would never beat (Michael) Phelps for example,” said Teo. “It is the way we motivate each other. I speak to him before and after most of his major races, and his confidence in himself really rubs off on me.”

And whatever Schooling aims for, he will achieve it, said Teo.

“What impresses me the most is that Joseph really doesn’t care what others think about him. He doesn’t listen to his doubters,” he added. “When Joseph went to the 2014 Asian Games, people were saying that he might win a medal. And when he took gold in the 100m butterfly, everyone cheered.

“But what they didn’t know is that he had aimed for an Asian Games gold for more than a year before that.

“When he told me that he was going to do it, I was like, ‘man, no way’, but I watched his timings dropping almost miraculously over the next year, and saw him achieving his target.”

How about Schooling’s chances for the 2016 Olympics, where he is aiming to be the first Singaporean to take an Olympic swimming medal? His best friend has this to offer: “Honestly, if anyone doubts that he can win the gold medal, they should take back what they say.

“Something magical is going to happen in Rio. He spoke about wanting to do well at the Olympics since we first started swimming.”

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