Early this year, 11 days shy of his 19th birthday, Welson Sim made a significant achievement in the world of Malyasian swimming. He had the honour of being the first Malaysian male swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Games in the men’s 13 and over 400m freestyle, with an impressive “A” cut. A time of 3:50.33 allowed him to go under the FINA automatic-qualifying time; and he made an impressive repeat with another “A” cut in the 200m freestyle as well.
Competing in his first Olympics at Rio, the jovial, take-it-easy smiling youngster soaked in the experience and according to him, had so much fun that he wants to be there at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Achieving many ‘personal bests’ at the Games, Sim came home proud of himself and having given his best.
Welson was at the DSA Kg Pool to talk to us about the world of competitive swimming and what it takes to get an edge over the best. Interviewing Sim was DSA’s own Marellyn Liew, an ex- National swimmer and butterfly specialist who had narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in 2008. Marellyn can see parallels with Sim as they were both around the same age at their qualifying stages, and had been through more of less the same rigours of training with total commitment to their sport.
Swimming starts at a young age and progresses naturally
Looking back, Sim recalls learning to swim and starting off swimming classes at the age of 10 years though he had been exposed to water as young as 7 years when he enjoyed playing in the water. Displaying a perhaps natural-born skill, Sim was remarkable in that he started swimming competitively just a year later at the age of 11 years, taking part in the then President Cup in Sarawak. Sim was a not much of a planner and took one Meet and one race at time, looking to do his best at each Meet and move on to the next higher level. The incentives and sponsorship that came with the Meet titles proved enough motivation to propel Sim to higher goals. Winning was the means to an end, the end which promised a better future for Sim, and his constant commitment in training meant that he has very little time for the usual thrills of growing up. As an athlete in any sport, sacrifices have to be made to achieve anything big.
Moral support and trust paves the way to success
For Sim, his greatest mentor and support has been his mother, who right from taking him for his first swimming lessons, has been behind him every step of the way. She has made unsurpassed sacrifices ensuring that Sim always got the support he needed. Sim feels that unlike today, parents were not much aware of the methods of training and never put pressure on their children to perform. As a child competing, he says he never felt any pressure to win and probably that allowed him to excel. Sim feels that what swim parents today fail to realize is that children need and expect moral support from parents and not to set undue expectation on them. He emphasizes that parents need to trust the coach and the coach will know what’s best for the swimmer. Just as the backbone protects the body’s vitals and helps in making the body stand upright, the coach ‘has the back’ of the swimmer while helping him/her attain their potential.
The best is yet to come…
Sim is just at the beginning of a stellar path of achievements and the next step is the 2017 SEA Games, to be held in KL, Malaysia. Sim says he aims for 3 Gold at the Games, for the 200m 400m and 1500m freestyle events. Following this would be the 2018 Asian Games, where he looks at winning 4 medals. Then are the bigger arenas of 2018 Commonwealth games and of course the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Sim would be facing off with another champion from Singapore, Joseph Schooling, who has been making waves in Asian swimming recently.
90% Mental toughness, 10% physical training
Sim says that one of the important aspects of a becoming a champion is the ability to control your mind and your mental toughness. When you are in preparation mode, your focus is on the physical ability and about 10% on mental strength, whereas at a Meet, only about 10% is on your physical ability as your training will automatically take over. The focus becomes more on mental toughness and that is where champions are made, to overcome the tremendous pressure of performing at international levels. Sim says, for young upcoming champions, the training focus should extend to developing mental strength also through the teaching of adequate sports psychology and similar sciences.
Always wake up smiling…
Lastly, Sim’s message for young swimmers is to stay strong and never give up along the way, to achieve your goals. As students, swimmers should also try to balance studies and sports so that you can be in the best possible position for your future. Champions are not made in a day, there will tough days and there will be better days, but remember to always wake up smiling.