National record-breaking swimmer and SOTY finalist Peter Lee on joining the Singaporean army, and how rival Nicholas Lim pushes him

By Ben Young

The Singapore International School star swimmer plans on "a very unconventional path" before, hopefully, heading to the 2024 Olympic Games

By Ben Young |

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Peter will be trading in his swim cap and shorts for a set of army fatigues.

Singaporean superstar swimmer Peter Lee has had quite the year. He’s broken national records in swimming, became a Student of the Year Grand Prize finalist, and was one of nine students to win a Hong Kong Outstanding Students award this year.

His greatest challenge, however, is yet to come – the 17-year-old Singapore International School student will be spending the next two years in the Singaporean army.

“It’s a very unconventional path for an international school student in Hong Kong to take,” Peter admitted, and he acknowledged that he will not have much time to swim in the foreseeable future.

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It was Peter’s swimming accomplishments, on top of his excellent academic achievements, that has earned him a spot at the University of Pennsylvania in the US in 2020.

“I can’t wait for the swimming, the camaraderie, and the [new] experiences,” Peter said on his future studies in the States, and added that he wants to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games. “It’s a long-term aspiration.”

Peter was one of nine to win a Hong Kong Outstanding Students award this year.
Photos: Peter Lee

In the past year alone, he has broken the 15-17 National Age Group record in the 200 Short course metre butterfly three times. “I’m most proud of this, not because of the record itself, but because it showed me I can succeed when I work hard.”

Peter credited his family and his coaches for helping him get to where he is, as well as his rival and “toughest competitor”, German Swiss International School’s Nicholas Lim.

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“He is extremely driven and he pushes me to be the best I can be,” Peter said. “I can’t wait to race him in the future.”

Peter’s best is a result of constant training. He trains nine times a week and, when he was studying for his IB diploma, he woke up at 5am every day.

“I would go to bed before midnight to be able to function the next day, so I basically had a three hour window to do all my work and revision,” Peter recalled. “This meant sacrificing fun after-school activities with my friends. I spent my trying to catch up on work.”

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Still, it’s all been worth it for Peter, who said he developed his deep love for the water when he started swimming at eight-years-old. “Everything just melts away in the water, whether that’s school stress or everyday pressures,” he said. “[There’s] freedom and fluidity in the water, and I love that there’s always room to improve in the sport.”

That improvement doesn’t just apply to his own swimming technique – Peter told Young Post that he thinks how the sport is viewed and treated in Hong Kong needs work, too.

“There are huge swimming stars like Kenneth To, Stephanie Au, and Siobhan Haughey who continue to attract attention to swimming,” he allowed, but added that he thought there was often too much red tape for most swimmers to truly succeed in Hong Kong.

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“There is a monopoly of power by the bigger clubs who dominate resources, and there’s too much of an emphasis by a lot of coaches to overtraining [athletes] at a young age for instant results,” Peter added. “There is a lack of transparency within the governing of the sport, especially regarding team selection.”

Peter said understood that his statements were fairly controversial but added that “someone needs to say it”.

That is not to say that all hope is lost for wannabe swimmers, though. His advice to young athletes who want to make it big in his sport is to not focus too much on swim times at a young age. “Hone your technique and improve your aerobic fitness,” he said. “The final destination is what counts.”

Edited by Ginny Wong