PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s top long-distance swimmer Kevin Yap has never won a SEA Games gold medal in the 1,500m freestyle in three attempts.
He finished second all three times – to Ryan Arabejo of the Philippines in the 2009 Laos Games; to Teo Zhen Ren of Singapore in the 2011 Indonesian Games; and to Vietnam’s Lam Quang Nhat in the 2013 Myanmar Games.
And he’s had enough of playing the bridesmaid’s role.
For this year’s SEA Games, to be held in Singapore from June 5-16, he has decided to skip the 400m freestyle event and focus solely on the 1,500m freestyle.
The 25-year-old has always been regarded as one of the top long-distance swimmers in the region, judging by his personal best. In 2012, his personal best in the 1,500m freestyle was 15:32.51. He then lowered it to 15:31.67 when he finished sixth at the Incheon Asian Games last year.
This is way better than the SEA Games record of 15:37.75, set by Arabejo in 2009.
But Kevin feels that it’s crucial for him to dip below 15:30.00 if he is to win the gold medal in the gruelling 30-lap race in Singapore.
“This time, I’m racing only in 1,500m because the 400m is scheduled for the day after,” said Kevin, whose season best is 15:45.76.
“I’m training specifically for the 1,500m race ... and I’m looking at going faster than 15:30.
“I don’t know how fast my rivals are swimming, but as long as I can dip below 15:30, I think I have a good chance to get the gold.”
Kevin expects Quang Nhat and Zhen Ren to be his challengers again.
The 18-year-old Quang Nhat has also improved vastly since his stunning triumph in Myanmar. The Vietnamese clocked 15:33.21 at the Incheon Asiad while Zhen Ren touched the wall at 15:43.08 in the 2012 SEA Aquatics Championships in Singapore.
Kevin will also have to keep an eye on 17-year-old Indonesian swimmer Aflan Fadlan Prawira, who clocked 15:44.30 at the Singapore National Age Group Championships in March – to rewrite his own Indonesian national record.