Camille Cheng (Lily-mei)
Sport: Women's Swimming
Country: Hong Kong
Birthday: May 9th, 1993 (age 23)
Hometown: Beijing, China
Cal affiliation: California Golden Bears alum (Psychology '15)
Years at Cal: 2011-2015
Olympic appearances: 2016 is Camille's 1st Olympic appearance
Camille's Cal careers are bookended by team national championships in 2012 and then in 2015, when she served as one of the team captain.
For her freshman year, Cheng swam in the 3rd place 400 free relay at the Pac-12 championships. She also swam the 200 Free at the NCAA, but finished in 41st place (so she did not contribute points to the Golden Bears team national title). In her sophomore year, Cheng clocked in at 7th in the 200 free at the Pac-12 and placed 15th in the 100 Free.
Camille Cheng really rose to become an Olympic caliber athlete in her junior year. She placed 13th in the 200 Free at the NCAA, scoring points for the Golden Bears team and earning her an All-American Honorable Mention.
In her senior year as the team's co-captain (an honor voted by the team), Camille Cheng was a part of the NCAA champions in the 800 Free relay - she won that national title while setting a NCAA championship and pool record with Elizabeth Pelton and 2016 Calympians in Cierra Runge and Missy Franklin (1:38 mark in the video below). Individually, Cheng also won the B-Final to place 9th in the 200 Free. She also placed 25th in the 100 Free and 53rd in the 50 Free.
Despite being born in Hong Kong, Camille Cheng moved to Beijing at age 9 and attending high school there (International School of Beijing). Nevertheless, Cheng competes internationally for her native Hong Kong.
From her SwimSwam Bio:
Representing Hong Kong Cheng competed in the 2013 World University Games. She swam on the 800m freestyle relay team that came in eighth, and also swam the 100m and 200m freestyle individually. Just last year in 2014 Cheng competed in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea swimming on both the 400m freestyle relay and the 800m freestyle relay. Around the same time she made the 2014 Pan Pacific Championship Team that travelled down under to Australia. She finished eighth in the 100m freestyle and finished 11th in the 200m freestyle.
More on Camille and her Rio outlook:
Given the smallness of Hong Kong, Camille qualified for the Rio games back in last December, when she beat the Olympic "A" time in the 200 Free at the U.S. Nationals. Cheng also meet the "B" standard in the 100 and 50 Free (so Hong Kong national selectors can pick her for those events as well).
With fellow Golden Bears in Yvette Kong (Man-yi) and Stephanie Au (Hoi-shun) - a 3rd time Olympian who will be Hong Kong's flag bearer and a non-Bear in Sze Hang-yu, Camille Cheng will also race in the 4x100 medley relay at Rio after the quartet qualified at the Malaysian Open.
Interestingly, Cheng speaks English, Mandarin Chinese, and French but does not speak Cantonese (like most people on Hong Kong). She apparently attended French International School in her first 9 years of growing up in Hong Kong.
South China Morning Post article on Camille is worth a read. The link includes a video interview with her.
A quick summary, Camille saw the Beijing Olympic games in 2008 and was inspired by Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin. She applied to be a walk-on at Cal without fully knowing just how good the Cal program was - she was surprised when her swim teammate was a Calympian. Eventually, Camille steadily improved and became a Calympian caliber athlete herself.
CalBears.com did a feature story on Cheng in her senior year.
Cheng's "aha moment," to use a favorite phrase from head coach Teri McKeever, came at her first Pac-12 Championships in 2012. She captured the C final of the 200-yard freestyle- 17th overall - and her time of 1:46.83 was nearly eight seconds faster than what she had produced at the beginning of the season.
"If you had asked me the first day, I didn't even think I was going to make it," Cheng recalled. "From then on, I wanted to keep getting better. I knew I could keep getting better."
Improvement kept coming and by the end of her junior year last March, Cheng had finished 13th in the 200 free at the NCAA Championships in 1:45.05, up from 44th place just a year earlier.
The All-America swim at the national meet was just the beginning of an outstanding year. She continued to train with her Cal teammates over the summer for the big international competition of 2014 - the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia in August that would feature the best swimmers from the Pacific Rim. Cheng, representing Hong Kong, reached the final of the 100-meter free and placed 11th in the 200-meter free.
Then, to top off her year, Cheng flew to South Korea for the Asian Games in September and earned bronze medals for her roles on the 4x100-meter free relay and 4x200-meter free relay.
"I'm that type of person who always wants more," Cheng said. "That was great but now I think I can keep going. The goal would be to train and hopefully make the Olympics for Hong Kong. It was a good check-in for me to prove why I love swimming. I have this passion and I'm ready for this year."
Balancing athletic success in the pool with academic success in the class room, Cheng has also won Scholar All-American honors.
The Psych major listed Professor Hinshaw (who taught Psych 131) as her favorite professor at Cal.
The social psychology courses that Cheng took also allowed her to change her social interactions with others, which lead to her success in the pool.
From the SCMP article:
And the psychology graduate hopes lessons learnt in class can transfer to the pool.
"My first two years I struggled, I just felt I didn't really belong on that team being surrounded by such great swimmers. I felt like I was taking away and not contributing anything, but I took it as motivation to work harder. I had a lot of self-doubt and confidence was a big thing - I didn't have that much but that's something I've gotten way better at dealing with.
"Before, I was not really open to talking about my problems, however big or small - once I let people in I found that most people are definitely willing to help and that's where you find really strong relationships and friendships.
"I took a lot of personality and social psychology classes: more how to work on a team, how to work with groups. I took a positive psychology class, more for fun, but definitely learned different techniques: ‘power posing', the power of positive self-talk. If during practice all your teammates are like, ‘This sucks,' obviously it's not beneficial, [and you need to know] how to quickly change that mindframe."
For Cheng, who also led a class at university for female athletes focused on leadership in sport, being part of a team in Rio could be even better than the individual laurels.
"It might be the first time Hong Kong send a relay to Olympics and the fact that we can have four girls compete, it's all about the team," she says. "I think relays are always the best part of swimming. I really hope at least one of relays qualify just to able to represent Hong Kong as a team.
"Hong Kong is a little smaller group [than other national teams], but if we can make our presence felt in Rio, I'd just be really proud of that."
Since graduating in 2015, Camille Cheng has focused on just swimming. That effort has obviously paid off with her berth to the Rio games. That historically first Hong Kong relay squad (in the 400 medley relay) is three quarters Golden Bears. Maybe, just maybe, they can defy expectations and advance to the final.
Good luck to Camille in Rio and GO BEARS!