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Asian Games: Silver, not Gold for Tao Li

The New Paper | Shamir Osman | Thursday, Sep 25, 2014

Over and over again it has been said that Tao Li is one for the big occasion, a swimmer who saves her best performances for the biggest stages.

Now we know why. Arms loosely by her side as she addressed the media last night at the Munhak Park Tae Hwan Aquatics Centre, the Singapore swim star said simply: "I enjoy that attention."

The 24-year-old had aimed to retain the Asian Games 50m butterfly crown she has owned since the 2006 Doha Games.

In last night's final, she stopped the clock at 26.46 seconds, 0.18 faster than her time in the morning heats.

But she fell short, beaten to the gold -soundly - by China's Lu Ying, whose time of 25.83sec not only ended Tao's dream of a three-peat, but also eclipsed the Singaporean's Asian Games record of 26.10.

Lu's compatriot Liu Lian (26.72) was third. Where some are fuelled by goading and even vitriol, Tao revealed she drew manna from the encouraging words of friends and family and the energy emanating from packed stands in an arena.

While the attention factor didn't quite work like a charm last night, Tao - perhaps still buzzing from the adrenalin and attention - remained upbeat despite her first loss in the event in three Asiads.

She did bristle a little, though, when a journalist asked about her strokes in the pool.

"Why, is it bad?" she asked, her chest puffed up just a tad more.

It is well known that Tao pays much attention to comments of her on Facebook, Instagram likes and the number of followers on her Twitter account.

But, maybe, that is not enough. Perhaps she wants to only tell the tale of a craft mastered and a clock beaten.

"I really wanted to win, but she was too fast," Tao said, of Lu.

"I've only been training in the United States (with Joseph Schooling under the tutelage of Sergio Lopez) for six months. With longer time there, maybe I'll be better." The drive to excel clearly continues to burn, even when vanquished, with all of Asia watching.

WORLD STANDARDS

Lu Ying said, at a later press conference, that a swimmer's "target is to chase down world standards, to set personal challenges".

"The spirit of sports is not just about finishing first or second - it is about challenging yourself," she added.

Tao turned sombre and bowed her head, perhaps reliving her first race in what she has already said could well be her last Asian Games.

Or, maybe, she was already turning her mind's eye to the biggest stage of all - the Olympics - where a show of mastery under the five rings in Rio in 2016 will certainly draw a lot of attention.

She has already made history at one Olympic Games, when she became the first Singaporean swimmer to qualify for a swimming final in Beijing 2008, eventually finishing fifth in the 100m fly.

"I will definitely be going to the Olympics," vowed Tao.

"Definitely."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sept 23, 2014.
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