BY CHIA HAN KEONG
HER swimming rivals nicknamed her "Nugget", partly because of her short, 1.6m-tall frame.
But Tao Li showed that she is every bit as valuable as her nickname implies, as she snared a silver in her pet 50m butterfly event in the Fina/Arena Swimming World Cup series at the Singapore Sports School yesterday.
Despite being far shorter than the top two swimmers in the event - 1.79m-tall Therese Alshammar of Sweden and 1.8m-tall Marieke Guehrer of Australia - she proved to be on a par with both in the shortcourse competition.
Indeed, her explosive first leg made up for a slow start, giving her a slight lead going into the turn.
But she lost steam in the end, allowing Alshammar to pip her at the post.
The 33-year-old Swede clocked 25.24sec, while Tao was a mere 0.23 behind at 25.47.
Guehrer was third with 25.70.
It was her second silver medal, after she came in second in the 100m fly last Saturday, losing out to Alshammar then, too.
The final's time, together with the 25.54 she clocked during the heats, were personal bests in the event for Tao, and she was highly satisfied with her World Cup outing.
The 20-year-old said: "I've never beaten both Therese and Marieke in a single 50m fly race. I came close to doing so, and just lost steam in the end. Still, I'm quite pleased with my times. Having Therese swimming beside me motivated me to swim faster. I think I also made Therese swim faster, too."
Her good performance bodes well for next month's Asian Games in Guangzhou, where she will be defending her 50m fly gold she won in Doha four years ago.
"Certainly, that (two-medal win) is a big motivation for me in the Asian Games, especially as the Games is held in China," said the China-born swimmer.
"My relatives are all going to watch me compete in Guangzhou. It's a great boost."
For now, she will be in intensive training for the Nov 12-27 Asiad, and she said she will be working hard on her start and her turns.
Brazil's Thiago Pereira was the outstanding swimmer in the two-day Singapore leg of the Swimming World Cup, after winning a fourth gold - in the 200m individual medley yesterday.
He won in 1min 53.45sec to add to his triumphs in the 200m fly, and the 100m and 400m individual medleys.
American swimmer Natalie Coughlin, the first swimmer to win two consecutive Olympic golds in the 100m backstroke, was also triumphant in her pet event upon her comeback trail, after taking last year off to get married.
She clocked 57.78 to fend off Australia's Rachel Goh (58.35) and New Zealand's Melissa Ingram (58.42).
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