Several new Hong Kong records were set at the fifth Fina World Junior Swimming Championships held in Singapore last week.
German Swiss International School student Jonathan Liao Xian-hao, 16, broke the 400-metre and 1,500m freestyle records for the 15-17 age group in the heats. Jonathan clocked four minutes, 4.80 seconds and 16:06.17, respectively, improving on the previous best times of 4:05.15 and 16:14.25.
Jonathan began swimming at the age of five and won his first championship when he was 10. He says a three-week high-altitude training in Guiyang just before the competition was the key reason why he was able to perform so well. With less oxygen high in the mountains, the body adapts to use oxygen more efficiently. "It helps a lot because I'm a long-distance swimmer," he told Young Post yesterday, just before heading back to Hong Kong.
On the second day of the competition, Jonathan performed poorly in the 800m freestyle heats. "I dropped quite a lot there because of bad warm-up on that day," he says. "The biggest challenge is the mental block that I had to overcome to perform [for the 1,500m race] on the last day. I have to thank my coaches and fellow teammates who cheered me on and supported me."
Barton Lau Shiu-yue also set a new record. Barton beat the Hong Kong record for the 50m freestyle in the semi-finals with a time of 26.03 seconds. He says Hongkongers often face a disadvantage in swimming because they are smaller than their rivals.
"I'm more than 1.8 metres tall, but standing alongside other swimmers I'm like a girl," says the 18-year-old Diocesan Boys' School graduate. "Many people look down on the Hong Kong team, but an older teammate inspired me to prove them wrong. [Foreigners] just don't understand how difficult it is for us because of our different physiques." He says the strongest swimmers are usually from Australia and the US.
Barton, who took up swimming aged eight, says he had to be careful how much energy he used during the race because he is not as powerful as the other swimmers.
Barton trains six days a week. During weekdays, he trains for two hours in the afternoon and then another hour and a half in the evening. On Saturday mornings, he trains for three hours. Usually he begins with 15 minutes of stretching, and then swims 2,000m to warm up. Then it's 3,000m of main training and another 1,000m to cool down. "It's very tiring and boring, but it's my dream," says Barton, who loves the freedom he has in the water.
He'll start his logistics degree next year, but his ultimate goal is the Olympics.
"I just need to speed up by around 0.5 seconds to qualify," he says, "so I'm hoping to do that by next year."
Hong Kong record holder Barton Lau answers our seven burning questions!
YP: What songs do you listen to when you train?
Barton: I'd go for anything that's upbeat and exciting, because training is really boring. But we only get to play music during the first 15 minutes when we stretch.
YP: Who's your favourite athlete?
B: [Eleven-time Olympic medallist] Ryan Lochte. He's still swimming professionally even though he's already 31. Not many people do that.
YP: What is the one, single food you will never give up?
B: Umm… McDonalds! McWings.
YP: If you could have any superpower for 24 hours, what would you choose and how would you use this power?
B: I'd like to fly! My older sister lives in the United States, so I could go visit her. Ha!
YP: If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be?
YP: What's your favourite cartoon?
YP: Would you prefer to date someone sporty or artistic?
B: You never know who you'll end up dating, but maybe an athlete would be better. She'd be more understanding of the strict discipline we need to have in our lives as well as the difficulties of training.