PETALING JAYA: It’s unheard of for a Malaysian swimmer to finish ahead of an Olympic champion.
But that’s what 18-year-old Welson Sim has done.
|Malaysian swimmer Welson Sim celebrates on the podium after winning the 400m freestyle event at the Singapore SEA Games in June.|
He beat not one, but two current stars of world swimming – Frenchman Yannick Agnel and South African Chad Le Clos – and then came within a whisker of grabbing the nation’s first-ever FINA World Cup swimming medal in Doha on Tuesday night.
Welson got kicking right from the start, clocking 1:49.93 to win Heat 4 of the men’s 200m freestyle at the Hamad Aquatic Centre. He made it to the final as the fifth fastest swimmer.
Reigning Olympic 200m freestyle champion Agnel (1:50.36) and Le Clos (1:50.54) came in second and third in the same heat – which wasn’t enough for them to make the top-eight final.
Le Clos, the reigning world champion for 100m and 200m butterfly, is best known for beating American Michael Phelps to take the 200m butterfly gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Welson saved his best for last as he set a new national record of 1:48.26 to finish fourth in the final.
Britain’s James Guy, who is also the reigning world champion in the same event, posted 1:47.06 to complete a double in middle distance freestyle after winning the 400m event on Monday.
Serbia’s Velimir Stjepanovic, the 2013 European champion in the event, took silver in 1:47.56.
Welson was pipped to the bronze by American world junior record holder Maxime Rooney, who clocked 1:48.15.
Welson had, two months ago, equalled the national mark held by Daniel Bego since 2009 when he posted 1:49.22 in winning silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa.
This is the second national record Welson has set in as many days, having set the national mark twice on his way to finishing eighth in the 400m freestyle on Tuesday.
Based on his current performances, Welson looks capable of making the A qualifying time for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Welson, who is well inside the B qualification time of 1:51.75 for the 200m freestyle, needs to dip below 1:47.97 to qualify in the A category. He has until July 3 next year to do so.
“I’m trying for the A qualifying time as that will guarantee me a place in the Olympics in Rio next year,” he said.
“It’s a good experience for me to swim in these kind of high-level meets. I still have time to qualify ... I hope I’ll continue to improve.”
National coach Paul Birmingham hailed Welson’s “outstanding efforts”.
“Welson knocked off some big names in his heat,” said Birmingham.
“It’s good for his confidence ... not everyone can say he has raced against and beaten an Olympic champion.”
Singapore SEA Games gold medallist Phee Jinq En clocked a creditable 32.71 to be ranked 11th overall in the women’s 50m breaststroke, while Kevin Yeap was also placed 11th after posting 15:52.70 in the 1,500m freestyle.