Forget about winning an Olympic or a Commonwealth Games medal. Former Malaysian swimmer Alex Lim Keng Liat will be happy just to have someone step up and break his long-standing national records in the 100m and 200m backstroke events.To this day, Keng Liat remains one of the most successful swimmers Malaysia has produced.
He reached the top 16 semi-finals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, was a finalist at the World Championships in Barcelona in 2003, a Commonwealth Games double medallist in Manchester in 2002 and rocked Bangkok in 1998 with a historic Asian Games gold and an Asian record – all in his pet 100m backstroke event.
No Malaysian swimmer has come close to achieving what the small-town boy from Sandakan did in the pool since then and Keng Liat said it’s a poor sign that his records still stand to this day.
“I stopped swimming at the end of 2006 but my national records still remain there. That’s not good for Malaysian swimming.
“Other countries like Singapore and Vietnam are chasing medals at the Asian Games but we are still struggling at the SEA Games.
“If we can implement the right system and consider sending the most talented abroad, we have a chance to produce somebody who can be world class.
“The swimmer, too, must have the right mindset and think big.”
Keng Liat has his eyes on a rising swimmer to take his mantle.
“I noticed there was one swimmer (Khiew Hoe Yean) who may be able to beat my national record if he continues to improve.
“If he can do a 2:03 at the SEA Games in the Philippines last year, he can bridge the gap.
“It’s possible my 200m backstroke national record will be broken as he is still young. Hopefully, he can do it,” said the man called the “The Mighty Mouse” by the British press for his silver and bronze splash at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Keng Liat set the 54.77s national record en route to reaching the top eight final in 100m backstroke at the 2003 world championships in Barcelona and clocked 2:00.94 in taking silver in the 200m backstroke at the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998.
Tern Jian Han managed to break Keng Liat’s 12-year-old national record of 25.67 in the 50m backstroke when he clocked 25.60 to reach the semi-finals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games two years ago. He, too, has retired.
“We have swimmers from Singapore and Vietnam swimming faster times today than my national records, so we have some way to go.
“As for winning another Commonwealth Games medal, I am not sure if any swimmer can do this again.
“Even at Asian Games level, the Chinese and Japanese swimmers are already swimming world class times,” said the 40-year-old, who is now back in Sabah after three years of coaching in Hong Kong.