When multi-time Australian and Hong Kong record holder Kenneth To died suddenly and tragically in March at the age of 26 during a swim practice, little was known about the circumstances. His death was first revealed on social media by his training partners in the Gator Swim Club High Performance group, and later confirmed by individuals close to the family.
A representative from the team said that To felt unwell after warmup and was taken to the locker room, where he died. The Florida District 8 medical examiner’s report, obtained by SwimSwam Friday, concluded officially that the cause of To’s passing was “sudden cardiac death.” The specific details about genetic testing to reveal the underlying cause was redacted in the report.
The autopsy findings further state that “no potentially lethal injuries or natural disease processes were identified.” Toxicology reports revealed no chemical intoxication. The autoposy did find that he had “heavy lungs” with “marked congestion and edema.” The report also concludes that he had a “mildly enlarged heart (403 grams)” with “widely patent coronary arteries and mild distension of cardiac chambers.”
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, shortly before his death.
He 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 had 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.
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.
To’s case, while alarming, is not unprecedented in recent history. 17-year-old Russian swimming prospect Mikhail Mukhodinov died suddenly after a race in 2018, likely of cardiac arrest, and 22-year-old Russian National Water Polo Team member Vladislav Timako died suddenly of an apparent heart attack during a preseason practice in 2015. In 2012, Norwegian breaststroker and world champion Alexander Dale Oen died of cardiac arrest while at training camp at the age of 26.