Khoo Cai Lin, one of the best swimmers that Malaysia has produced in recent years, has represented her country at international tournaments such as the Olympics, the SEA Games, the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in a career which has spanned over a decade.
A double degree major in Public Relations and Mass Communications at Taylor’s University, Cai Lin was first selected for the national team in 2003 and was named Malaysian Olympian of the Year four years later in 2007.
Her career in in the pool came about at the age of three through a family effort to help her eldest sister overcome asthma. “Our family doctor told my mum to put her into swimming. So naturally, my second sister and I were sent to swim classes to accompany my eldest sister.”
Besides bonding together as a family, swimming at a young age also gave Cai Lin the opportunity to explore swimming as a competitive sport.
Representing Malaysia at meets all over the world has brought her amazing experiences to her life, albeit with the pressure to perform at the highest level.
An ever present for Malaysia, Cai Lin has competed at every SEA Games since the 2003 edition held in Hanoi, Vietnam, winning a total of four golds, seven silvers and five bronzes.
The national swimmer competed in the 400m and 800m freestyle events at the 2008 Beijing, as well as the 800m freestyle event at the 2012 London Olympics. She also donned the national colours at the 2010 Delhi and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, as well as the 2010 Guangzhou and 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
At present, Cai Lin holds the Malaysian national records in the 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle, with the time of 2.14.30, 2:03.55, 4:10.75 and 8:45.36 respectively.
Beyond these major tournaments, Cai Lin is also a veteran of the ASEAN University Games (AUG). She participated in four AUG meets, the most recent being the 17th AUG in Palembang where she won gold medals in the 200m butterfly, 400m freestyle and 400m individual medley.
In terms of memorable AUGs, Cai Lin fondly remembers the 14th edition of the games which was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2008. “The games were memorable for me because I was able to celebrate my birthday after the competition with my friends from all over Southeast Asia, and I also broke a couple of records at this meet too!”
Indeed, Cai Lin made her mark at the 2008 games by shattering three national marks, including Malaysian swimming legend Nurul Huda Abdullah’s long-standing record in the 200m freestyle set in the 1988 Seoul Olympics – she smashed Nurul’s old mark of 2:04.85 with a score of 2:04.63.
Competing at the AUGs has certainly helped Cai Lin develop as a swimmer. At each subsequent meet she has faced younger and stronger swimmers, as well as the opportunity to speak to them on how they juggle their studies and sports.
During her double degree course, Cai Lin trains twice a day in the morning and in the late afternoon. Opting for a more flexible part-time schedule enables her to pick classes that do not clash with her training.
Currently, Cai Lin is helping nurture the next generation of Malaysian swimmers in her role as part-time swimming coach, and also runs a travel club in her home state. She is also aiming to automatically qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics through the Category “A” qualifiers in the 400m freestyle category.
Cai Lin has qualified met the category B qualifying mark of 4:17:80 in 2015, and she is already training hard to beat her 400m national record of 4:10.75 she set at the 2009 Vientiane SEA Games in order to meet or do better than the category A qualifiying mark of 4.09.08s.
With graduation nearing, Cai Lin will soon pass the mantle to the next generation of Malaysian university swimmers to do their country proud at these games and to be success stories in the pool.
Success is something that the AUG veteran does not take for granted. She lists determination, discipline and being goal driven as factors to her success as a swimmer.
She also has some advice for the younger generation in their pursuit of success in sports. “Never give up,” she said. “ It is definitely not easy to juggle between studies and sports but at the end of the day it will be worth it. You can do sports for only a fraction of time in your life and be good at it. The others can wait.”
The competition in the pools will certainly heat up in the coming years as Malaysia will face more competition from Southeast Asian nations who are getting better in swimming. With a national veteran cheering them on and ready to mentor them for success, there is plenty that they can achieve.