Anyone who followed the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is familiar with the name Quah Zheng Wen, the 18-year old Singaporean phenom who racked up a total of 12 medals, including 7 gold, at this year’s Games. By the end of the competition, Zheng Wen had re-written six meet records and came away as the entire Games’ highest medal earner. Additionally, just this weekend at the Singapore National Championships, Zheng Wen swam away with national titles in both the 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly events.
However, just as his swimming career has been launched in a major upward trajectory, a stumbling block has been dropped on Zheng Wen’s path in the form of his country’s requirement to serve two years of full-time military service. With the 2015 FINA World Championships just weeks away, as well as the 2016 Olympics merely over the horizon, talks are reportedly ongoing between Singapore Swimming Association officials and the Ministry of defense in an attempt to defer service due to “exceptional circumstances”. An athlete’s capability to earn Olympic medals falls under this category, according to his supporters.
Zheng Wen’s camp is not breaking any new ground with their deferment request. Teammate Joseph Schooling, who also won big at the SEA Games with a haul of nine gold medals, had previously been granted a national service deferment until after the 2016 Olympics. From a coach’s perspective, the athletes are keys to Singapore’s hopes of any relay medals at the upcoming World Championships. Says head coach Sergio Lopez, without a deferment decision, “The strategy for the men’s (medley) relay team is uncertain. Hopefully, we will get a deferment. If we don’t, we will have to forget about the relays. It is as simple as that.”