Going the extra mile for swimming
by Philip Wong, email@example.com. Posted on July 29, 2012, Sunday
STATE swimming coach Hii Hieng Chiong rarely complains about fatigue or tiredness.
In his dictionary, there is no such word because he believes if one has the passion for a certain sport, one should strive to translate that passion into success.
He strongly believes in the philosophy that hard work is the key to success in sports — and in life.It is with such a conviction that he got actively involved with swimming.
For the past 40 years, the indefatigable 65-year-old has been a full-time state coach – a record unrivalled by any other local coaches from his generation.
He has helped to produce many outstanding swimmers over the years, especially from Sibu, and carve a name for Sarawak as the country’s swimming powerhouse in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.
Sarawak emerged overall champions for eight years (1980-7) in a row at the National Swimming Championships.
And for the record, nearly 30 swimmers from Sibu made up the Sarawak team in each outing. It was virtually a battle among the Sibu swimmers.
Mention the National Swimming Championships during those golden years, the supremacy of the Sarawak swimmers instantly springs to mind.
Indeed, Sarawak were so dominant during the aquatic sport’s heyday in the state that many of the swimmers would return with accolades and titles in unprecedented succession.
Sibu swimmers such as Hii Toh Hock, Ling Kwong Leh, Wong Koh Ching, Hii Ding Lik, Hii Duan Sing and Wong Kwong Ling became household names in the 1980’s and 90’s for their record-breaking feats.
Those were, indeed, the glory days of swimming in Sarawak.
Medals dried up
Hii said many of his swimmers went on to represent the country in national and international competitions. But medals from the pool began drying up by the late 1990’s when standards took a big dip.
Perhaps it was due to complacency or a cyclical declining period. Despite the difficult times, Hii soldiered on.
In the 2000’s, a new crop of Sibu swimmers comprising Die Ung Manggang, Tay Siew Jung, Wong Liong King and Ling Leh Yien, Hii Siew Siew, Ting Ee Jie, Su Siaw Jin and Tay Xue Jung thrust Sarawak into the limelight.
The latest talents to be discoveried include Alex Tiong and Nee Gui Ping who are expected to hog headlines soon.
A revitalised Sarawak began to produce results again at the recent Pahang Sukma where the state contingent surprisingly won 10 gold medals.
“The glad tidings are back and with the latest crop of outstanding swimmers such as Erika Kong, Hii Siew Siew, Vernon Lee, Angela Chieng, Roydon Goh, Welson Sim and Alex Tiong making waves, all signs are pointing to Sarawak becoming the country’s swimming powerhouse again,” he noted.
Hii started swimming during his school days. In 1979, his first big break came when he was picked to represent Malaysia at the SEAP Games in Yangon (then Rangoon) in Myanmar (then Burma).
He swam in two events — 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay – and though he returned with only a bronze in the 200m freestyle, Hii described the outing as a good learning experience.
“The high intensity of the Games was truly an eye-opener when I took on some of the best swimmers in Southeast Asia.
“Never mind I did not come back with the gold medal but the experience spurred me to work for the betterment of swimming in the state,” he added.
In 1970, Hii went to Singapore to take up a one-year coaching course, following that up with another one lasting eight months in Japan.
In 1972, he was officially appointed the state swimming coach.
Hii had a two-year (1980-2) break from coaching in the state when he was invited by the Malaysian Swimming Association to coach the national team in Kuala Lumpur.
The national callup obviously came on the back of Sibu swimmers’ high success rate at the National Championships.
Hii accepted the offer but after two years, decided coaching the national team was not his cup of tea as there were lots of logistical and other “unforeseen” problems.
He quit in 1985 and was reappointed Sarawak coach — a position he has held till today.
“I maybe the longest serving swimming coach in the state but it would not have meant much had I failed to produce results.
“I am happy Sarawak swimmers are now doing well — thanks to the coaches from the other divisions who have helped one way or another,” he acknowledged.
Hii youngest daughter, Siew Siew, a butterfly specialist, now holds the Malaysian Games 200m butterfly record.
“With more exposure to higher level competitions, I believe she can do even better,” he said.
Hard work needed
On Sarawak’s swimming standard, Hii admitted it would take a lot of commitment to bring back the good times between the 1970’s and 1990’s.
He remembered back then, Sarawak swimmers swept
almost all categories — from freestyle, backstroke to butterfly, sometimes even occupying the top three spots in the events.
“Our swimmers were heads and shoulders above their rivals. Such was Sarawak’s prowess in those days. It was incredible.”
Hii said Sibu even hosted the Malaysian Open Swimming Championship in 1972 at the Bukit Lima Pool.
“The turnout was huge and the atmosphere electric. It was a great success. Unfortunately, that was the only time Sibu got to host the National Championship.
“Hopefully, with the proposed renovation and construction of a roof for the Bukit Lima Pool, we will be able to host the National Championship again,” he enthused.
“It’s nice if we could get all the top swimmers to come and compete in Sibu. It may sound like a distant dream but not impossible if we work together with the Sports Ministry to make things happen.”
Hii is not going to stop coaching anytime soon, saying so long as he is still able, he will continue to help train up more swimmers for the state.
“I still have this burning desire to coach as long as my services are needed,” he assured.