GRIT BEFORE GLORY

Na­tional swim­mer Quah Zheng Wen aims to make a splash at the Rio Olympics. But in or­der to com­pete with the world’s best, he has to train like one.

Men's Health (Singapore) - - ALPHA MALE -

Often, be­hind ev­ery vic­to­ri­ous ath­lete lies sto­ries of hard work, ded­i­ca­tion and grit. To be a mas­ter of some­thing, you have to en­dure rep­e­ti­tion, the end­less train­ing ses­sions that drill home the in­tri­ca­cies of a spe­cific skill. The late Muham­mad Ali hated train­ing, but he un­der­stood its im­por­tance and goes flat out at ev­ery gym ses­sion. David Beck­ham – way before he was noted for his dead-ball abil­ity – prac­tised thou­sands of free­kicks at his local park even when day turned to night.

And then there’s na­tional swim­mer Quah Zheng Wen. The 19-year-old has come un­der deeper scru­tiny after be­com­ing the most be­medalled ath­lete at last year’s Sea Games. He has since met the “A” Olympic qual­i­fy­ing time for the 100m back­stroke, 100m as well as 200m but­ter­fly events, and will be on the plane to Brazil.

But such feats are not down to chance. Like Ali and Beck­ham, he ad­heres to a process.

“I wake up at about 4.45am, since my train­ing starts at 5.30,” he says. “After­noon prac­tices be­gin about 2.30pm or 4.15pm, and de­pend­ing on the sched­ule, there will be gym ses­sions before we head to the pool. I swim un­til about 7pm. Over­all, I train 10 times a week, spread across Mon­days to Satur­days.”

But, wait, wouldn’t gym work weigh a swim­mer down? “I’ve never re­ally done heavy weightlift­ing before, since I swim more in mid­dle to longdis­tance events, and the power re­quire­ment isn’t so great,” he ex­plains. “But I have qual­i­fied for the shorter dis­tances and [na­tional swim] coach Ser­gio [Lopez] is try­ing to make me stronger with­out my gain­ing too much weight, to get the power I need to com­pete against some of these guys, who are huge.”

Zheng Wen’s rou­tine may seem re­stric­tive to an out­sider, but it all boils down to hunger and dis­ci­pline. One needs to stay motivated and re­main fixed on the prize ahead, but what is star­tling is that he has been fol­low­ing this life­style for the past five years.

“Since I was 14,” he smiles. “Ad­just­ing to this sched­ule re­quires a lot of per­se­ver­ance. Swim­ming isn’t some­thing that you can stop for a cou­ple of days and then get back to it. Water isn’t our nat­u­ral place where we’re sup­posed to be, and I think there’s a ‘feel’ in the pool that you get when you train con­sis­tently.

“When you stop for a cou­ple of days, you’ll feel weird. It’s not like: ‘Oh, there’s a huge com­pe­ti­tion in a month’s time and I have to start train­ing prop­erly now.’ No, it doesn’t work that way.”

Of course, with such a wa­ter­tight sched­ule, sac­ri­fices have to be made. Zheng Wen ad­mits that it is pretty much eat, sleep and swim.

“You have to forgo plenty of so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, with friends and stuff like that. You just don’t have the time. And even if you do, you’ll be so tired you sim­ply want to rest. Peo­ple don’t see the grit and sac­ri­fices – it’s not all glam­our. Train­ing con­sis­tently is key. You have to keep do­ing it un­til you’re good at it.”

In­deed, un­til you’re good at it. Four years ago, Zheng Wen took part in the Lon­don Olympics and only fin­ished 33rd over­all in the 400m in­di­vid­ual med­ley heats.

His im­prove­ment since then has been as­tound­ing – break­ing three na­tional records last year apart from his Sea Games hero­ics, and most re­cently in June, he beat Amer­i­can com­peti­tors at the In­di­anapo­lis Arena Pro Swim to win the 200m but­ter­fly.

No one knows for sure what will hap­pen when the lanky swim­mer takes to the pool in Rio, but the ner­vous boy four years ago is now brim­ming with con­fi­dence. “I feel I’ve earned my spot. It’s been a wild ride, but if I set my­self up well, who knows?”

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