The Olympics are the pinnacle of many athletes’ careers, and many are already preparing for the Tokyo 2020 qualifiers. Katii Tang Tsoi-lam, this year’s SCMP Student of the Year (Sportsperson) first runner-up, is one of them, as she works on cutting times by refining her body position and turns.
“It’s a realistic dream,” says the 15-year-old swimmer from Victoria Shanghai Academy. “I was 0.36 seconds behind the Olympic qualifying time [the B cut] in the 200m freestyle last July. By November I had reached the B cut. For the next three years, I need to swim faster than my personal best or achieve even better results. I’ll attend as many international events as possible to gain experience and improve my posture.”
Katii said body posture develops muscle strength, which is essential for generating and maintaining power for propulsion.
Meet the 12-year-old Independent Schools Foundation Academy sailor who's taking international competitions by storm
“Your body needs to float on the surface of the water. Your head must remain still; never raise your head as it’ll make your lower back and legs sink. The legs should be in line with the body. If you get the body posture wrong, each stroke won’t be as effective and you won’t accelerate,” she explains.
Katii was inspired by Olympic freestyle gold medallist and world-record holder Katie Ledecky. “Ledecky only rotates her head or neck with the body roll at a point that she briefly breathes. This slight rotation reduces resistance, and makes her underwater kicks and hand recovery very smooth. I hope to learn her skills and become an all-rounded freestyle swimmer, too,” says Katii.
Katii has tasted success in many international competitions; she scooped five gold medals at the Schools Interport Swimming Competition in Guangzhou last September, including the girls’ 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly and 400m freestyle. Then, Katii and her teammates won a bronze medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the 10th Asian Swimming Championships in Tokyo last November.
However, Katii was left disappointed after finishing with two silver medals in the girls’ 100m and 200m freestyle at last Wednesday’s Speedo All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Swimming Tournament. Diocesan Girls’ School’s swimming sensation Tinky Ho Nam-wai clinched gold in both events.
“Tinky has powerful arm strength, and her endurance helps maintain her speed. I’m lucky to have her as my competitor as she always pushes me to swim faster. Both of us are looking forward to swimming against each other again,” says Katii.
She will next take part in the HKASA Division One Short Course competition at Victoria Park Swimming Pool next month, where she will try her best to break Siobhan Haughey’s 200m U16 freestyle record of 1 minute 59.88 seconds.
Katii insists she’ll improve her skills in the runup to this contest, including the all-important flip turns. She also plans to strengthen her leg muscles by doing more squats and lunges during training.
Which fictional character would you choose as your teammate?
I would want Harry Potter. He’s very brave and selfless. He’s always willing to take on challenges and would always motivate me to train hard. Perhaps his magical powers would help me to swim faster!
If you could have the abilities of any animal during one competition, which would you choose and why?
A dolphin. Its fluke [the triangular tail] would help generate power and would put me in a dominant position during the race.
Which food would you never give up?
Pizza. It’s the meaning of life (apart from the weight gain part). I could eat it for every meal for the rest of my life.
What song title best describes you when you’re swimming?
Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. The lyrics “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” are very meaningful and always boost my confidence. It makes me “stand a little taller” when trying to overcome difficulties.