Australia-raised Kenneth To ready to switch to Hong Kong with eye on Asian Games and Tokyo Olympics

The 24-year-old is a former Aussie world championship swimmer and is expected to make a major impact on the local scene

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 10:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 11:59pm

Hong Kong is giving Kenneth To King-him a second chance.

For the former Australian swimmer, a new life in the pool could be on the horizon after he decided to return to Hong Kong to represent the place of his birth.

“I have submitted documents to [swimming world body] Fina regarding the change of my nationality and I should be able to represent Hong Kong at international level next year,” said the 24-year-old, who is in Hong Kong for the two-day Airweave World Cup series. “The decision was made in June after the Australian Olympic trials following some discussion with my Hong Kong girlfriend and also because I think it’s time for a change after spending many years in Australia.”

According to Fina rules, To must wait one year before he can don the Hong Kong colours but already there are a host of crucial events on the schedule under his new identity.

“The 2017 World University Games, the National Games and the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia are all on my agenda as I look forward to representing Hong Kong in all these major games,” said To, who is currently staying at the Hong Kong Sports Institute as a senior squad member. “The ultimate target will be the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.”

The former Sydney-based swimmer earned a measure of success with Australia, where he was raised. He had a podium finish at the inaugural Olympic Youth Games in 2010 and was a member of the Australia 2011 World Championships team and finished seventh in the 200-metre individual medley. He also won a silver medal as a heat swimmer in the medley relay at the 2013 World Championships.

At Australia’s 2016 Olympic Games trial, he came eighth in the 100 metres final and clocked 49.12 seconds in the heats, which is half a second faster than the current Hong Kong record 49.69 seconds held by Geoffrey Cheah.

Institute head coach Chen Jianhong has high hopes for the new recruit, saying To would be a major medal contender in Asian events especially in the 100-metre freestyle and 200-metre individual medley.

“To is in his final year at university and once he has completed his studies and trains on a full-time basis, he will become a major force in the Hong Kong team,” said the coach. “He can also help the freestyle relay team to contend for a medal at the next Asian Games.”

To had two fourth-placed positions in the opening day of the World Cup series at Victoria Park Swimming Pool on Saturday, saying he was way behind his best form but multi-Olympic gold medallist Katinka Hosszu, of Hungary, continued her medal-winning spree in Hong Kong with five gold medals and one silver in the opening day.

Hosszu, who captured three golds and one silver in Rio this summer, has been confirmed the overall World Cup series winner even before the final leg in Hong Kong.

“My record is 10 gold medals in Hong Kong and it’s a pretty good start with five today,” she said. “I will have six more events tomorrow and it’s always my goal of expecting more. We’ll see.

“But having been confirmed the overall World Cup series champion makes me a lot less stressful as I don’t have to count the points. It’s much easier mentally. But I’ll still do my job as I love to race.”

In the women’s 100 metre butterfly, home favourite Chan Kin-lok set a Hong Kong record of 58.07 seconds with fifth place in the final, bettering the old mark of Sze Hang-yu’s 58.10.

Hong Kong’s mixed medley relay team of 4x50 metres also won a bronze medal, their third in the nine-leg series.

In the men’s 100 metre individual medley, series leader Vladimir Morozov, of Russia, came close to breaking his own world record, finishing the final in a time of 50.33 seconds, just a bit off his world mark 50.30.