Tao Li

Tao Li (b. 10 January 1990, Wuhan, Hubei, China–) has represented Singapore in various international swimming competitions since 2005, and holds several national records in the sport.1 At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she became the first Singaporean swimmer ever to qualify for an Olympic final.2

Early life and education
Tao Li was born in the city of Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China.3 The only child of Tao Ran and Li Yan, both swimming coaches, Tao showed a talent for swimming very early on. She started wading in swimming pools when she was a year old and could swim 25 m without her float by age five.4


Tao’s parents came to Singapore in January 2001 to look for work, taking their 11-year-old daughter with them. In May 2001, Li Yan began coaching at the APS Swim School founded by former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong, while Tao and her father returned to China.5 Back in China, Tao joined the Hubei provincial swim team and was placed on the list of national swimming selectors.6

Tao returned to Singapore without her father at the end of 2003 and started school the following year as a Primary 5 student at Queenstown Primary School.7 Her parents wanted to give their daughter a chance to realise her sports potential, but knowing the short shelf life of athletes, they also wanted her to have a good education. Hence in 2006, Tao entered the Singapore Sports School, where she received her secondary education, in addition to sports training.8 She became a Singapore citizen in 2005.9

Competitive swimming career
Tao made her debut as a competitive swimmer in 2005, at age 15.10 Her small stature initially raised some doubts about how far she could go, but she has since proven critics wrong.11


In her first year, Tao won eight gold medals (including one for the 4x100 m medley relay) and one bronze medal at two international competitions – the 1st Hong Kong Open Invitational Swimming Championships and the 23rd Southeast Asian Games in Manila.12 In 2006 she won a gold in the Asian Games – the first for Singapore since 1982 – by clocking 26.73 seconds in the 50-metre butterfly final. In 2007 she became the first Singaporean female swimmer to reach the finals of the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) world championships.13

In 2008, Tao became the first Singaporean swimmer to make it to an Olympic final, placing fifth in the 100-metre butterfly final. She had set the national record at the event semi-finals.14 Olympic gold medallist Libby Trickett of Australia, who won the event, praised Tao for handling the pressure well and qualifying for the final at her first Olympics.15

At the 25th Southeast Asian Games in Vientiane, Laos in 2009, Tao bagged five medals: the 4x100 m medley relay and four individual events, including the 200-metre butterfly, in which she bettered her own 2005 Games record in a time of 2 min 13.49 s.16 In 2014, Tao clinched a silver and bronze for the 50-metre and 100-metre butterfly events respectively at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.17

Medals won at selected international events (individual)

 

    23rd Southeast Asian Games 2005, Manila, Philippines18

   

   Gold: 100 m backstroke
   Gold: 200 m backstroke
   Gold: 200 m butterfly
   Bronze: 100 m butterfly


    Milo 7th Asia Swimming Championships 2006, Singapore19

   

   Gold: 50 m butterfly
   Bronze: 100 m butterfly


    15th Asian Games 2006, Doha, Qatar20

   

   Gold: 50 m butterfly
   Bronze: 100 m butterfly


    FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2007, Singapore21

   

   Silver: 50 m butterfly
   Silver: 100 m butterfly
   Silver: 200 m individual medley


    24th Southeast Asian Games 2007, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand22

   

   Gold: 100 m backstroke
   Gold: 100 m butterfly
   Gold: 200 m butterfly
   Silver: 200 m individual medley


    FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2008, Singapore23

   

   Gold: 100 m butterfly
   Bronze: 50 m butterfly


    FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2008, Moscow, Russia24

   

   Silver: 100 m butterfly
   Bronze: 50 m butterfly


    FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2008, Stockholm, Sweden25

   

   Gold: 100 m butterfly


    FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2008, Berlin, Germany26

   

   Gold: 100 m butterfly
   Bronze: 50 m butterfly


    25th Southeast Asian Games 2009, Vientiane, Laos27

   

   Gold: 100 m butterfly
   Gold: 100 m backstroke
   Gold: 200 m butterfly
   Gold: 200 m backstroke


Awards
Sportswoman of the Year 2007 and 2008, Singapore National Olympic Council28
Best Female Athlete (Senior) 2008, Singapore Swimming Association29
The Straits Times Athlete of the Year 200830

Her Times Women Empowerment Awards 2018.31

Singapore national records (individual events)
Open – Women

Event32

Time (min:s)

Competition

Date

100 m backstroke

01:00.65 (short course)

2009 FINA World Cup, Durban, South Africa

16 Oct 2009

200 m backstroke

02:17.12

25th SEA Games 2009, Vientiane, Laos

10 Dec 2009

100 m butterfly

00:57.54 (long course)

29th Olympic Games 2008, Beijing, China

10 Aug 2008

 

00:56.28 (short course)

FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup 2008, Berlin, Germany

15 Nov 2008

200 m butterfly

02:12.63

29th Olympic Games 2008, Beijing, China

12 Aug 2008


Under 17 – Girls
 

 Event33

Time (min:s)

Competition

Date

200 m backstroke

02:17.55

23rd Southeast Asian Games 2005, Manila, Philippines

29 Nov 2005

50 m butterfly

00:26.73

15th Asian Games 2006, Doha, Qatar

7 Dec 2006

100 m butterfly

00:58.96

15th Asian Games 2006, Doha, Qatar

2 Dec 2006

200 m butterfly

02:14.11

23rd Southeast Asian Games 2005, Manila, Philippines

3 Dec 2005

Post-retirement
Tao’s success shows that Singapore can produce world-class swimmers. After retiring from competitive sport, she set up the Tao Li Swimming Club in 2016.34 In 2019, she organised a charity swim to raise funds for SportCares, which helps youths at-risk and less-privileged.35  

 


Author
Valerie Chew



References
1. Alvin Foo, “Tao Li Looks like the Next Joscelin,” Straits Times, 3 August 2005, 13; “Our Golden Girls,” New Paper, 12 August 2008, 45. (From NewpaperSG)

2. “Tao Li’s Size is No Handicap: Thorpe,” New Paper, 24 August 2008, 56; Mathew Pereira, “Athlete of Year Tao Li Inspired S’poreans,” Straits Times, 30 January 2009, 7; Jonathan Wong, “Leaving Friends, Family Behind,” Straits Times, 23 November 2009, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Foo, “Tao Li Looks like the Next Joscelin.” 
4. Leonard Lim, “From English Lessons to Swimming Gold,” Straits Times, 10 December 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Cubby Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat,” Today, 3 March 2007, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
6. A. R. Dizon, “Water Babe on the Boil,” New Paper, 24 May 2006, 51. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat”; Foo, “Tao Li Looks like the Next Joscelin”; Wong, “Leaving Friends, Family Behind”; Dizon, “Water Babe on the Boil”; Lim, “English Lessons to Swimming Gold.” 
8. Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat”; Dizon, “Water Babe on the Boil.” 
9. “Our Golden Girls”; Dizon, “Water Babe on the Boil.”  
10. Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat.” 
11. Pereira, “Athlete of Year Tao Li Inspired S’poreans”; Darren Lai, “A World First for Tao Li,” Today, 31 March 2007, 41 (From NewspaperSG); “Tao Li’s Size is No Handicap: Thorpe.” 
12. Cubby Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat”; Today, 3 March 2007, 36; “Our Golden Girls”; The New Paper, 12 August 2008, 45. (From NewspaperSG).
13. Lim, “From English Lessons to Swimming Gold”; Lai, “World First for Tao Li”; Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat.” 
14. “Poised for Olympic Glory,” Today, 11 August 2008, 1. (From NewspaperSG) 
15. Lim Han Ming, “What Next for Tao Li?” New Paper, 12 August 2008, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Major Games Representation,” Singapore Sports School, accessed 17 November 2021; Leonard Lim, “The Comeback Kid,” Straits Times, 15 December 2009, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Major Games Representation,” Singapore Sports School, accessed 17 November 2021
18. Dizon, “Water Babe on the Boil.”  
19. Lee Yulin, “Red is Tao Li’s Lucky Colour,” Straits Times, 12 March 2006, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Lim, “From English Lessons to Swimming Gold”; Leong, “Two Women Who Don’t Know Defeat”; Jose Raymond, “Towering Tao Li Breaks Li’s Resign,” Today, 9 June 2007, 36. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “FINA Arena Swimming World Cup 2007,” Swimming Statistics, accessed 27 September 2016. 
22. Jeanette Wang, “Four to the Fore,” Straits Times, 15 December 2007, 88. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Singapore’s Sporting Achievements in 2008,” New Paper, 29 December 2008, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “Singapore’s Sporting Achievements in 2008.”
25. “Singapore’s Sporting Achievements in 2008”; Pereira, “Athlete of Year Tao Li Inspired S’poreans.” 
26. “Singapore’s Sporting Achievements in 2008”; Pereira, “Athlete of Year Tao Li Inspired S’poreans.”
27. “Major Games Representation,” Singapore Sports School, accessed 17 November 2021; Lim, “Comeback Kid.” 
28. Raymond, “Towering Tao Li Breaks Li’s Resign”; “Singapore Sports Awards,” Singapore National Olympic Council, accessed 26 September 2016.  
29. Dawn Yip, “Best of Swimming Fraternity Honoured,” Red Sports, 7 April 2008. 
30. Pereira, “
Athlete of Year Tao Li Inspired S’poreans.”  
31. “Her Times Women Empowerment Awards 2018 Presented to 11 outstanding women from Singapore, Indonesia and China,” New Fortune Times, 17 May 2018.  
32. “National Women’s Open Records (SCM),” Singapore Swimming Association, accessed 27 September 2016; “National Women’s Open Records (LCM),” Singapore Swimming Association, accessed 27 September 2016. 
33. “National Girl’s U17 Records (LCM),” Singapore Swimming Association, accessed 27 September 2016. 
34. “About,” Tao Li Swimming Club, accessed 15 November 2021.
35.  Kimberly Kwek, “Tao Li, Shakir Inducted into Sport Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 10 November 2019, A28. (From NewsLink via NLB’s eResources website) 



The information in this article is valid as of November 2021 and correct as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Women swimmers--Singapore--Biography
Tao, Li, 1990-