The Australian swimming community has paid tribute to former star Kenneth To King-him after his shock death at 26 following a warm-up before practice in the United States.
Hong Kong-born To grew up in Sydney from the age of two and was a world championship silver medallist for Australia. He also won Youth Olympics gold, and 2014 Commonwealth Games gold and silver before switching allegiance to the country of his birth in 2016.
"Shocking news to hear of the passing of my competitor but most of all, friend," Australian swimmer and three-time Olympic medallist James Magnussen posted in a tribute on Instagram. "We've been racing each other and making teams together since we were 16.
"He will remain one of the fiercest competitors I've ever stood on the blocks next to. I firmly believe that for a long period he was pound for pound, the best swimmer in the world.
"RIP little guy, you won't be forgotten."
A post shared by James Magnussen (@james.magnussen) on Mar 19, 2019 at 1:45am PDT
To narrowly missed out on earning selection to compete for Australia at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, despite having undergone surgery to remove his appendix just seven weeks before the national trials.
Surgery on a severe back injury in 2014 " which he delayed to help Australia reach the podium at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley " ended his world championships hopes and also saw him miss out on the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I was fortunate to work closely with Kenny in the lead-up to the 2014 Commonwealth Games," Swimming Australia national coach Jacco Verhaeren said in a statement. "In that year he suffered a bad back injury after qualification and although he could have pulled out, he refused to give up on the team and did everything he could " it showed the resilience that was instilled in him and was a testament to his character."
"He was a much-loved team member with a determined spirit and wonderful personality, so he will be missed by all his peers, coaches and staff," Verhaeren said.
"We are all very shocked and saddened by Kenny's passing and wish his family and friends strength at this incredibly difficult time."
Despite missing out on the London and Rio Games, To was determined to make his Olympic bow in Tokyo.
He submitted paperwork to world governing body Fina to transition to Hong Kong in late 2016, after discussing the move with his girlfriend, Kelly Kwong Ka-yi, whom he met at the 2015 World Cup in Hong Kong. He went on to break 17 Hong Kong records.
To was in the US training with the Gator Swim Club of the University of Florida, as part of his preparations to qualify for the 2020 Games.
"Sadness this morning with news of the death of @DolphinsAUS teammate and Youth Olympian Kenneth To," the Australian Olympic team wrote on Twitter.
"Kenneth was a friend to many at the AOC (Australian Olympic Committee) and in the Olympic family. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and the entire @SwimmingAUS community at this time."
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