Former Australian world silver medal-winning swimmer Kenneth To has died aged 26 after becoming ill during training in Florida.
Hong Kong-born To moved to Sydney when he was two and won silver as part of the 400 metre medley relay squad at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona.
He also claimed six medals at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore and in 2009 broke Ian Thorpe’s decade-old Australian record in the 200m individual medley.
To transferred his nationality to Hong Kong in 2016 and was training to compete at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“(To) felt unwell at a training session and was taken to hospital where sadly, he passed away,” the Hong Kong Sports Institute said.
“Kenneth was known as a truly exceptional person, warm, funny and kind.”
The cause of death was not immediately clear.
To was in Florida for a three-month training camp with the Gator Swim Club at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
In December he competed at the world short-course championships in China and placed sixth in the 100-metre medley – his first individual final at a major championships in six years, he wrote on Twitter.
‘Shocked and saddened’
Swimming Australia national coach Jacco Verhaeren paid tribute to To, describing him as an exceptional teammate and versatile athlete.
“We are all very shocked and saddened by Kenny’s passing and wish his family and friends strength at this incredibly difficult time,” Verhaeren said.
“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.”
Swimming NSW has expressed its shock at To’s death on its Twitter account.
“Our love and deepest sympathy are with Kenneth’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time. We will miss you Kenny,” it read.
Australian three-time world championship gold medallist James Magnussen said To was one of the swimmers he’d raced against.
“Shocking news to hear of the passing of my competitor but most of all, friend – @kennethkhto,” Magnussen wrote 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.”
The Dolphins are extremely saddened by the sudden passing of our friend and teammate Kenneth To. We send his family and friends strength at this incredibly difficult time.
— Australian Swim Team (@DolphinsAUS) March 19, 2019
One of the nicest guys I ever had the pleasure of traveling with. RIP Kenneth, taken too soon. https://t.co/3iCi4H97ZL
— Jessica Hardy (@swimhardy) March 19, 2019
I cannot believe this. Kenneth To was my favorite Australian swimmer when I was swimming and to hear his passing at age 26 is just shocking. My thoughts and condolences are with Kenneth's family. He was a true inspiration and an exciting swimmer to watch. pic.twitter.com/aJ193ayX49
— Luke Mitchell (@LukeMitchell06) March 19, 2019
We are heartbroken to to announce that one of our best swimmers, Kenneth To, has passed away at age 26. Our love and deepest sympathy are with Kenneth’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time. We will miss you Kenny.https://t.co/3wKEKqCPpt pic.twitter.com/Bm9ZQO6PHR
— Swimming NSW (@SwimmingNSW) March 19, 2019
I am in utter shock. One of the nicest athletes with whom I’ve interacted has died. Kenneth To was a kind, passionate and humble person. I am just in shock. R. I. P.
— Loretta Race (@RettaRace) March 19, 2019