Tributes pour in for record-holding Hong Kong swimmer who died suddenly in US

Kenneth To celebrates after winning the men’s 100-meter breaststroke race at the 2013 FINA Swimming World Cup in Dubai. Photo via AFP.

Record-breaking Hong Kong and Australia swimmer Kenneth To has died suddenly at the age of 26 after falling unwell at a Florida training camp, leaving fellow competitors in shock.

Chinese star Sun Yang, a one-time teammate of To’s, was among the mourners for the popular swimmer, who won Commonwealth and world championships medals with Australia before switching to represent his native Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Sports Institute said To, who held 16 Hong Kong swimming records, was on a three-month training program at the University of Florida when he took ill.

“He felt unwell at a training session and was taken to hospital where sadly, he passed away,” a statement said Tuesday, adding that the Institute was “deeply shocked and saddened.”

“He was extremely popular and loved by his teammates and competitors. Kenneth was known as a truly exceptional person, warm, funny and kind. His sudden passing is a huge loss to local sports.”

Multiple Olympic champion Sun, who teamed up with To for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 2017 China National Games, was among those to pay tribute.

“Your love and passion for swimming will always be in our hearts, thank you for everything you’ve given to swimming,” Sun posted on Chinese social media.

“May there be no pain in heaven…RIP.”

To was part of the Australian teams that won Commonwealth gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in 2014, and silver in the 4×100-meter medley relay at the 2013 world championships.

He shifted to represent Hong Kong in 2016, but remains the Australian short-course record-holder in the 100-meter and 200-meter individual medley.

Hong Kong Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah also offered his condolences today, calling To’s passing “a great loss to Hong Kong sports.”

Other Hongkongers were also taken aback at the news.

“I still can’t accept the news of his death, it’s so shocking,” Hong Kong swimmer Yvette Kong told the Apple Daily newspaper.

“He made a lot of contributions to the Hong Kong swimming world. It is such a pity.”

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