BY LIM TEIK HUAT
PETALING JAYA: The sky’s the limit for young swimmer Welson Sim, who is the first Malaysian to qualify for two Olympic A events in swimming.
Welson set new national records en route to winning the 200m and 400m freestyle gold medals at the ongoing Singapore national age-group championships to earn his tickets.
The 18-year-old from Sarawak clocked 1:47.67 and 3:50.33 in the 200m and 400m freestyle, which is nothing short of astonishing considering he trains locally and not under the best of conditions at times.
He previously trained at National Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil but then had to share the Kampung Pandan pool with the Paralympic swimmers last month as the former pool is under renovation.
Welson, coached by Australian Paul Birmingham, would have claimed bronze medals at the last Asian Games in Incheon based on his timings and his 200m freestyle personal best would be good enough to get into the top 16 semis at the World Aquatics Championships in Kazan last year.
Former top Malaysian swimmer Alex Lim Keng Liat said it’s a pleasant surprise for Welson to chalk up the impressive timings and believed the country is seeing a rare talent in the pool.
“I knew he had potential as I’ve seen him as a kid when I was coaching a few years ago,” said Keng Liat.
“He’s very fast for his age and I am impressed he can do it training in Malaysia.
“I have to go overseas to try for an A time (100m backstroke at the Athens Olympics in 2004) and it’s got tougher since then.
“In fact, I did not believe anybody can do an A time training in Bukit Jalil but he proved me wrong.
“It also helped that he has Daniel Bego and Kevin Yeap pushing him in training,” added Keng Liat, the 2003 World Championships finalist and 1998 Asian Games gold medal winner for 100m backstroke.
The three-time Olympian has one advice for Welson – to broaden his wings abroad.
“He certainly has what it takes. These kind of talents do not come easily ... it’s like Lee Chong Wei in badminton and he can achieve a lot of big things if he keeps progressing.
“He can even be more successful than me as he is still young. His age is just right for college overseas and I hope he takes up the opportunity if there is one. With his kind of timings, he has no problem getting sports scholarship.
“I started to improve after I went to the United States right after my first Olympics ... also at his age,” added Sabah-born Keng Liat.