The Selangor-born Cai Lin, who delayed going back to college in a bid to realise a dream to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, finally made it in style. Her winning time of 4:18.20 was inside the B qualifying mark of 4:20.05.
Yesterday, Cai Lin dropped to fourth place after the first 50m. But she proved to have the better stamina and caught up with the leaders by the 150m mark.
The silver and bronze medals went to Thai swimmers Natthanan Krajang (4:20.01) and Vatana Rutai (4:22.55).
Cai Lin did not break Nurul Huda Abdullah's 19-year-old national mark of 4:17.86. But she can take comfort in being the first Malaysian woman to win the long distance race since Nurul ruled the pool in the late eighties.
Cai Lin showed her sheer delight in finally winning her first gold medal in her third SEA Games appearance and shed tears of joy after coming out of the pool.
“I was sick in Manila with flu and fever. I was not able to do my best there. This made up for everything. I was looking to pull it off because this was the race I was aiming for but I did not expect to break the Games record,” said Cai Lin, who has a chance to bag a double when she races in the 800m freestyle tonight.
It was a glorious night for Cai Lin when she helped Malaysia to a silver medal in the 4x100m freestyle.
Cai Lin, Yi Ting, Leung Chii Lin and Heidi Gan clocked 3:54.91 and it was a new national record, erasing the previous mark of 4:01.69 set by a Sabah quartet in the 2004 Sukma (Malaysia Games) in Seremban.
The 22-year-old clocked 1:12.85 to finish behind Nicolette Teo of Singapore.
Nicolette, who was favoured to win the shorter of the breaststroke races, broke the Games record of 1:11.36, set by her former team-mate Josceline Yeo, with a time of 1:10.15.
Malaysia's current top swimmer Daniel Bego settled for silver in the 100m freestyle for the second consecutive time in the biennial Games.
The 18-year-old Daniel, who just recovered from fever suffered four days ago after arriving in Korat, clocked 51.53, which was way outside his personal best of 51.32 he clocked in an international meet in Japan in August.
At the last Games in Manila, Daniel finished behind Indonesian SEA Games record holder Richard Sam Bera.
Singapores Bryan Tay failed to beat Richard's record of 50.80 but he was still a satisfied winner, clocking 51.23.