When hearing the story of Allen Ong, sacrifice is a subject that cannot be avoided. Ong’s life has been full of sacrifice, all in the name of success in a sport that has dominated his life since he was a child.
Ong, the reigning national and Big Ten swimmer of the week, left his home in Ipoh, Malaysia, for the first time in his life at age 18 to move to Mission Viejo, California. He made the move primarily to nurture his development as a swimmer. When asked about sacrifice, however, Ong simply shrugs.
“I don’t have any regrets (about coming to the United States), because you need to leave something behind to achieve something great,” the four-time All-American said. “I can say that I left my life, but I achieved something more in swimming.”
Ong’s parents put him in swimming lessons as a child, and he swam throughout his childhood. A Malaysian national title at age 16 convinced Ong he could be a great swimmer.
Ong, who had never been away from home for more than a week, moved to Mission Viejo and began high school there as a junior.
He encountered many shocks upon moving to Southern California, not the least of which was its mild climate.
“I first met Allen when I picked him up on his first day of school,” current Minnesota assistant coach and former Mission Viejo assistant Kelly Kremer said. “I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and he came out in a parka and gloves. I didn’t think he would last a month.”
Thinking Minnesota’s cold climate would be unbearable for Ong, Kremer didn’t even bother recruiting the two-time high school All-American to Minnesota.
However, Ong made a call to Kremer in the fall of his senior year asking if he could swim for Minnesota. Initally, Kremer was skeptical, but Ong’s visit to the Twin Cities in Nov. 1998 changed his mind.
“Allen came in on a cold weekend and said he could handle it,” Kremer said. “He signed and we’re lucky to have him.”
This season, Ong’s time in the 50-yard freestyle ranks 21st in the country, and his time in the 100 freestyle is 11th. Additionally, he swims on four relays, all ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Ong has stepped into a leadership role on the team, setting a standard for his teammates in practice and becoming more confident about his goals.
“He’s a leader without trying to be, without being very outspoken,” head coach Dennis Dale said. “He’s not afraid to race people in practice. He’s also not afraid to let it be known what his goals are, and that lets people know that it’s OK to talk about how fast you want to be.”
Ong swam for the Malaysian national team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and says there is a chance he might swim in the 2004 Games. That decision, however, hinges on whether or not he can support himself financially after he graduates. Ong, a computer science and technology major, might not be able to find work in the United States, which would force him to go back to Malaysia and effectively end his swimming career.
This season, Ong hopes to make the NCAA Championships particularly in his individual events, which he considers a priority because they require him to be at his best and not rely on teammates.
“He’s always been a mainstay in the relays, but it’s time for Allen to take the next step,” Kremer said. “Whether you’re a finalist or a (consolation) finalist at NCAA’s, you’re one of the best in the world, and it would be nice to see him (competing) at the highest level.”
To do so would be a fulfillment of the swimming goals for which Ong has made sacrifices all of his life.
Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]