Multi-time Australian and Hong Kong record holder and recent addition to the Gator Swim Club High Performance Group Kenneth To has died at age 26, SwimSwam has confirmed.
The death was first revealed on social media by his training partners late Monday evening US time and was later confirmed by individuals close to the family.
According to a report in the South China Morning News, citing a statement from the Hong Kong Institute of Sport, To “felt unwell” in the locker room
after practice Monday, and was taken to the hospital, where he died.
Update: while the South China Morning Post reported that he was taken to the locker room after practice, a representative from the Gator Swim Club says that it was after warmup, not after the entire practice.
To began training under Gregg Troy at the University of Florida in January and participated in a training camp in the Florida Keys alongside post-grads Caeleb Dressel, Jan Switkowksi, Aliena Schmidtke, Tom Peribonio, Corey Main and Enzo Martinez, among others, last week.
To held national records both for his home of Australia – where he lived from age two until late 2016 – as well as his native Hong Kong. He set the 100 and 200 IM SCM Australian records in 2013, both of which still stand today. The former remains as the current All Comers record.
Since his move to represent Hong Kong internationally as of January 2017, To has set over a dozen national standards including the LCM 50/100 free, 50/100 breast and 200 IM, along with the SCM 50/100/200 free, 50/100 breast, 50/100 fly and 100/200/400 IM.
“The Hong Kong Sports Institute was deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing away of elite swimmer Kenneth To,” said the HKSI to the Morning Post in a statement.
“He was extremely popular and loved by his teammates and competitors. Kenneth was known as a truly exceptional person, warm, funny and kind. His sudden passing is a huge loss to local sports.”
To broke onto the international scene nearly a decade ago, winning multiple medals at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics and 2010 Junior Pan Pacific Championships. He made his first senior Australian National Team that year, then placed fifth and sixth in the short course meters 100 and 200 IM, respectively, at the 2010 FINA World Championships.
He narrowly missed making Australia’s 2012 Olympic team but claimed the FINA World Cup series overall men’s title that year. To went on to take silver at the short course 2012 FINA World Championships in the 100 IM as well as bronze on multiple relays. He continued his strong run on the world stage in 2013, swimming on multiple Worlds relays and taking fifth in the FINA World Cup standings.
In 2014, he qualified for both the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships, but underwent back surgery after the Commonwealth Games and was forced to withdraw from both Pan Pacs and Worlds. The surgery, which was a result of a weight room injury, also sidelined his 2016 Olympic hopes.
Known as one of the world’s premiere underwater specialists in his prime, he began training with Olympians Claudia Lau and Sze Hang Yu at the National Sports Institute as a senior squad member in late 2016, then moved to Florida earlier this year.
At the 2018 Short Course World Championships, his highest finish came in the 100 IM, where he took sixth place in a time of 51.88, a new Hong Kong national record. He had planned to compete at the Hong Kong Festival of Sport in April, which serves as one of the nation’s qualifying meets for the 2019 FINA World Championships this year in Gwangju, Korea.
To most recently raced at the Des Moines Pro Swim Series stop, taking eighth in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 IM.