May 23, 2011
Stanford swimming has long been known to swim internationally, and this summer is no different.
Bobby Bollier (U.S) Geoff Cheah (Hong Kong), Curtis Lovelace (U.S.) David Mosko (U.S.) Eirik Ravnan (Norway), Matthew Swanston (Canada) and Michael Zoldos (Canada) are all slated to swim at the World University Games in China from August 14-19 for their respective countries. At the world championships from July 16 to 31, current distance ace, Chad La Tourette, along with graduates-- Jason and David Dunfords (Kenya), Tobias Oriwol (Canada) and Marcus Rogan (Austria), will all swim.
Previous International Q and A's: Bollier | Cheah | Lovelace | Mosko | Ravnan | Zoldos | Swanston
Gostanford.com catches up with Stanford's sprinter and backstroker Geoff Cheah, a member of both the Stanford and Hong Kong teams.
I am asking each of the athletes this question. What is it like to hear your national anthem at an international event?
1) Hong Kong was handed back over to China in 1997 from the United Kingdom after 100 years of British rule and though Hong Kong is part of China, I compete separately for Hong Kong but share the same anthem as China. Though I still feel largely separated from China because of how different it is in Hong Kong, I still feel proud to hear the Chinese anthem whenever it gets played for a Chinese athlete. I haven't yet had the experience of having an anthem played for me, so I really cannot describe what that feeling is like. But, I feel very proud to be from such a small city and to be able to compete internationally and here at Stanford. It is a great, great honour to wear Hong Kong and Stanford team gear. The colours are both similar too- red and white. My dream is to win a medal at a major competition, and though I cannot yet describe it, all I can say is that the people who truly want it will find a way to, and I'm sure it is one of the best feelings out there to win it for whomever you represent.
How is the training different from having to compete for your Hong Kong team, but also swimming for Stanford? Is there an adjustment period traveling from what coaching staff to another?
2) Being on the Hong Kong national team but studying and training in the U.S requires me to stay in touch with the Hong Kong Swimming Association and continue to actively participate in major home meets at least once a year. This means I either fly home in April for an annual trial meet, or compete in the Hong Kong Open at the beginning of September. It is really important for me to continue to participate at home and try my best to maintain my presence with my friends and teammates, officials, and of course the coaches. So far, it has not been too difficult, and I'm grateful for that. My teammates at home are also very welcoming and it is always a pleasure to compete along side them.
We get along well despite being away for the most part. I find that there isn't much of a adjustment period (switching "swimming cultures") when I return as I'm so used to it now. This period is mostly just catching up on all the latest news from the swimming world at home. In terms of how many times I would therefore meet as part of the Hong Kong National team, it really depends on what international meets that we choose to compete at, and also whether I can afford to be away from the Stanford team and school. It was a big sacrifice for me to forgo competing at the Asian Games in November 2010 in Guangzhou, but I needed to be here for my teammates at Stanford.
Tell me about what it's like to compete against your Stanford teammates at an international event?
3) When competing against my Stanford teammates internationally, I still feel as though we are part of the same team despite representing different countries. We still look out, support and cheer for one another, and those experiences will be great memories forever. I think we still maintain the same intensity when we race against each other, whether representing Stanford or our respective countries, as we all know how important it is to be able to bring our best come race day. We apply it no matter who we represent in order to succeed together. We draw from each other's success.
I know you were rather young when Hong Kong left British rule and returned to China. What are some of the changes that have occurred, either for you, or your family?
4) Great question... I'm finding it hard to pin point some clear-cut differences. Maybe it's just me who has not really noticed much change, or there really has not been that much of a difference or effect on my family. However, what stands out to me most is the increase in pride of being part of China and the change in local attitude. China is a growing nation and I feel that many Hong Kong people now can legitimately feel as though they are contributing to China's large economic growth and development as a modern nation. Hong Kong is a booming business hub, and is a gateway to China's economy. There is a good sense of pride of being Chinese, but this, personally, is not to say that the Hong Kong people completely agree with or are proud of everything that goes on in mainland China. Hong Kong and the mainland are very difference places.
I also notice that there are less British ex-pats in Hong Kong. Some of my British friends left within a couple of years after the handover, and some before. Nevertheless, there is still a sizeable ex-pat population in Hong Kong, and my hometown is truly an international melting pot. I think the handover affected my mum, who is a professor of Biochemistry at the University of Hong Kong, mostly by changing who she has to go to in order to fund her research.
Are there any local places in Hong Kong to tell us about?
5) There are a lot of tourist information books about Hong Kong as it's a pretty popular holiday destination, so I feel like it's pretty easy to get the low down on all the fabulous places to go to in Hong Kong. I love to eat all types of food and it would be easy for someone to find the best restaurants in Hong Kong. That being said, my low down would be that for those who like a little treat or two when you're out and about shopping, you have to pay a visit to any little Hong Kong bakery that you come across (there are many), and ask for a pineapple bun. Delectable treat for your pallet!
You are now one of the veterans on the team. How have you grown as a Stanford swimmer?
6) Since coming to Stanford, I think I have matured mentally and have learned more about all the different components that must go into someone's training and racing in order to produce he or she's desired results. I have improved my strength over the course of my time here and have also greatly improved my kicking, and these have translated quite well into the pool with a mini breakthrough coming through sophomore year, though overall not as well as I might have liked. Those are just physical aspects and I've learned that there is much, much more to being a "complete" athlete and I think that I have been gathering valuable mental skills and learning more about my self. I think these will help put everything together in the near future, and our swimming program here really sets you up well to translate lessons from being a student of the sport into becoming a swimming champion.
This past season has had its ups and downs. Everyone absolutely hates injury, and I have had to deal with one over the past year that has definitely affected my performance. But, I learned more about my self and what I need to do to prevent it from happening again and to breakthrough onto the next level. I have really focused on improving my catch of the water in my stroke over the past year, and I think this has definitely paid off. Though I was injured for a large part of fall quarter, a key training period for Pac 10s and NCAAs, I still managed to go best times and contribute on a relay for the team at NCAAs at the end of the season.
Finally, what are your thoughts on next year?
7) Next year's team has the potential to be one of the greatest-- if we all remain focused on the task at hand and keep our eyes on the prize. Our incoming recruits will be adding to our great depth and though we are losing some big sprinters, there are people on the team, as well as incoming sprinters, that are going to and will have to take it upon themselves to step up into those shoes. Our distance and mid distance freestylers are going to be better next year as we do not really lose anything in those events and our depth in these events really strengthen our dual meet and championship teams. We have a young backstroke core that has been developing well, especially in the 200, and along with some great incoming backstrokers, I think they will be an exciting force to compete with. With the addition of some great incoming IM specialists, our IM group is going to bolster the team's performance with all of their versatility and depth. Our excellent 200 flyers will be returning once again to give our team the opportunity to soar above others. It is not going to be an easy road ahead, and while we have some excellent returning experience in the breaststroke, our younger breaststrokers, just like our younger sprinters, must look to do the right things in practice and in competition to make this team an opponent's nightmare. It's going to be an exciting season. Look out for our incoming freshmen class to ignite the team like TNT.