What’s it like competing against HK Olympic swimmer Siobhan Haughey? 14-year-old Sarah Chu on racing against her role model

The German Swiss International School student wants to excel at both swimming and academics

Kelly Ho |

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Sarah Chu smashed four records at the 43rd Mantas Invitational Swim Meet last month

At the Festival of Sport Time Trial in Hong Kong in April, all eyes were on famed swimmer Siobhan Haughey as she qualified for two events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Little did people know that a few lanes from Haughey, another swimming star was in the making – Sarah Chu Ting-yan, who reached the final of the women’s 100m freestyle for the first time at the competition.

The 14-year-old still remembers the thrill of competing against some of her idols, including Haughey and Camille Cheng, in the time trial at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. Sarah’s fifth-place finish in the senior tournament was a confidence boost for

the teenage swimmer and proof of her growing potential.

In the same pool two months later, Sarah became the star of the show at the 43rd Mantas Invitational Swim Meet held on June 8 and 9.

HK Olympic swimmer Siobhan Haughey speaks about injury concerns and why she will train at University of Michigan until Tokyo 2020

She smashed four meet records in 100m freestyle, 50m and 100m butterfly and 50m backstroke in the girls’ 13-14 age group. One of the records she broke was held by three-time Olympian Hannah Wilson.

Speaking to Young Post at the meet, the swimming prodigy said she was happy with her performance, adding that it was an honour to break Wilson’s record. But the humble teenager always reminds herself not to be carried away by the titles she has won; instead, she is focused on making significant improvements in the future.

“I try not to think about the titles too much, because I don’t want to get complacent,” she said. “The results are in the past and I don’t want to stay in the past. I want to continue moving forward in my journey as a swimmer.”

Hong Kong International School swimmers talk about Olympic aspirations, losing sleep, and staring at the bottom of a pool

Sarah’s swimming journey began when she was enrolled in an infant programme when she was 18 months old. Since then, the pool has become her second home, a place where she can put her stressful school life behind, and get a kick out of training with her friends.

As much as she loves being in the water, it was a tough decision for the German Swiss International School student when she had to give up some of her other sports. Sarah said she had spent her preteen years playing all kinds of sports, before narrowing it down to swimming, horse-riding and hockey.

The teenager went on to explain that it is important for budding athletes like her to keep their options open, until they find a sport they are ready to go all out for. But when she saw the leaps she’s made in swimming, together with the increased training hours, Sarah knew she could only afford to keep two sports, and eventually decided to quit hockey.

Sarah says she spent her preteen years playing all kinds of sports.
Photo: Kelly Ho/SCMP

While swimming seems to have taken up most of her time, the Year Nine student always makes sure that she stays on top of her school work. At the end of the day, she believes nothing comes before studying, not even her favourite sport.

“I did my best to balance school and swimming, but some days I skip training because ultimately I think school is a bit more important,” she said.

Juggling sports and academics is a struggle for many student athletes in Hong Kong. Luckily for Sarah, she has a great role model to look up to, whose success has restored her faith in enjoying the best of both worlds.

“Haughey is an amazing swimmer who came from my club, and she managed to balance swimming and academics at the same time,” said Sarah, referring to the 21-year-old who has just graduated from the University of Michigan, in the US. “Knowing that someone has been able to do that, it makes me feel better and I know I’m not alone.”

Edited by M. J. Premaratne