When Cal first-year swimmer Zheng Wen Quah’s name was absent from the psych sheets at the 2017 Men’s Pac-12 Championships, it appeared as though time had run out for the Singapore national to make his debut this season. Since he began classes at the school in January, the NCAA has been in deliberation over his eligibility to compete collegiately.
That all changed on Sunday when he made his collegiate swimming debut at the Pac-12 Invitational, which is a sanctioned NCAA last-chance qualifying meet for the national championships. There he swam a 1:40.36 in the 200 fly, which ranks him 2nd nationally this season behind only Texas’ Jack Conger.
“We were trying to have him for all of our spring season, I think it’s tough for any kid who has to sit out for any reason, whether it’s academics or injury, or in Zhens case working through the NCAA process to watch teammates race and compete and you can’t,” head coach Dave Durden said. “We’re appreciative of his patience through this and the patience of his family and the sacrifices and the diligence that they’ve put in through this process and a really impressive kid and family with what they’ve gone through over the last 6 months. When you go from thinking you’re going to join the military for the next 4 months and then move around the world, that’s tough for anybody to do.
“Any kid that starts the academic process it’s a tough transition and it’s a tough process and he’s handled it very well.”
That seals up a spot for him to compete at the NCAA Championships at the end of March, where thanks to B cuts in the 100 fly (46.77) and 100 back (47.05) he’ll have a full complement of individual races to swim.
Quah is a star in his native Singapore, which is the same home country of defending NCAA 100 and 200 fly champion (and Olympic 100 fly champion) Joseph Schooling. At the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, he earned 12 medals. He then finished 22nd in the 100 back, 15th in the 100 fly, and 10th in the 200 fly at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
When he came over, Singapore news outlets reported that the NCAA was mulling the impact of an endorsement deal Quah signed with Liberty Insurance last year and prize money he received for competing in the World Cup. At the time, he said that “there’s a lot of little grey areas we’re trying to figure out with them.”
“That was all taken into account, and Jay Larson (assistant athletic director, compliance) just kept us up to date on what he was doing, and to be honest I haven’t even seen the letter that was sent to the NCAA. I coach swimming, I don’t work in compliance, and so I let those guys do their thing and work with Quah and his family. The NCAA takes these things very seriously, and that’s why it took a while to get a decision back.”
Their ultimate decision was that he would be ineligible until the final day of the season, which gave him one last shot at qualifying.
His personal best times in long course, along with the short course conversions of those swims.
Quah disrupting Schooling and Conger’s 1-2 finish in the 200 fly and also sneaking up to do some damage in the 100 fly and back is Cal’s best chance at upending the two-time defending NCAA team champions from Texas.
“Everybody is chasing Texas,” Durden said. “You have 4 returning gold medalists, and that doesn’t even account for Will Licon, who won 2 individual events last year. Their depth and talent is incredible and they’re going to be hard to beat.”
Quah received a deferment form his compulsory military service in order to train in the United States.