Teenage swim sensation Nguyen Thi Anh Vien starred with two record-breaking wins as she helped draw attention from an embarrassing race row at the SEA Games on Saturday.
Vietnam’s Nguyen, 18, obliterated the field in both the 800m and the 400m individual medley as she set off on a quest to win 11 gold medals — all in Games record time.
The exploits of the Florida-trained Nguyen came after the start of full-blown competition was overshadowed by a racially charged incident at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Ceremony host and actress Sharon Au was forced to apologise after she asked a small, ethnic Indian girl in the crowd to speak, and then mocked her accent.
“What (vat) happened, what happened?” she laughed, wobbling her head from side to side, after the girl stumbled as she tried to repeat a line welcoming athletes to the Games.
After an outcry on social media, Au, who is ethnic Chinese and will play late strongman leader Lee Kuan Yew’s wife in “The LKY Musical”, issued an apology.
“It was intended to be comic but in hindsight I realise how insensitive it was. I sincerely apologise to those whom I’ve inadvertently offended,” she wrote on Facebook.
However, most attention focused on the action as Singapore finished the first full day of competition on top of the medals table with 17 golds, four ahead of Vietnam.
Four Games records fell in the pool, with Nguyen leading the way as she smashed the 400m medley mark in the heats and lowered it again in the final to 4min 42.88sec.
The emerging star took gold 51 seconds ahead of Myanmar’s 10-year-old Oo Shun Lei Maw, who was half-a-minute adrift of the field when she touched in 5:34.00 to warm applause.
– ‘I can do better’ –
Nguyen also destroyed the competition when she grabbed the 800m title in a Games-record 8:34.85, 18 seconds ahead of second-placed Ammiga Himathongkom of Thailand.
The smiling Nguyen then cheerfully said she hoped to win another nine events, all in record-breaking time, as she prepares for the July-August world championships in Russia.
“I hope so, yeah,” she said, when asked if she could win all 11 in Singapore.
“I think I can do better… I knew I could do this,” she said, adding that she also wants to win all of her 11 races in record time.
Swimming is dominating the start of the 36-sport, biennial Games, with Singaporean Olympic hopeful Joseph Schooling also going for nine golds from Sunday.
Singapore’s Quah Zheng Wen saw his hopes of a 12-race sweep dashed when he was second in the men’s 200m freestyle behind Vietnam’s Hoang Quy Phuoc, who swam a record 1:48.96.
But Quah hit back in style, winning the 100m backstroke in another Games record of 54.51, to the delight of the partisan Aquatics Centre crowd.
Hosts Singapore won the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay and also picked up golds in kayaking, fencing, shooting and wushu to maintain their position on top of the medals table.
But they will be looking over their shoulders at regional giants Thailand, who enjoyed a strong day by reaching 10 golds to lie third.
Thailand’s footballers also hammered Brunei 5-0 to top Pool B with four wins from four, while Indonesia swamped Cambodia 6-1 for their first win in Pool A. – Agence France-Presse