Singapore Athletics (SA) has appointed local distance running coach Steven Quek to help prepare marathoner Neo Jie Shi in her lead-up to the Olympics.
The Straits Times understands that the SA executive committee picked him from a shortlist that included two other local coaches. He is expected to meet Neo this week to devise a training plan.
Quek, 48, is a veteran distance running coach well known in the schools athletics fraternity. He previously coached Raffles Institution and now helms the Hwa Chong Institution and Cedar Girls' Secondary teams.
Said SA president Tang Weng Fei: "Steven understands the importance of the Rio Olympics and he'll help to come up with a proper training programme and guide Jie Shi."
Tang said that because of the short lead-up time to the Aug 5-21 Games, foreign coaches were never part of the consideration.
Neo had unexpectedly qualified for the Olympics in December, after coming in 10th in the Women's Open category at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS).
"To bring in someone unfamiliar with the local culture is difficult, not because of the cost, but the efficiency of the matter," said Tang.
"The athletes speak very well of Steven and the rapport between coach and athlete is also very important since we don't have much time."
While Quek's previous experience has largely been in coaching student-athletes, he is not an unheralded name.
He was recently sent by SA to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to attend a course held under the auspices of USA Track and Field and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Academy.
Upon completion, coaches receive an IAAF Level 5 Diploma for Elite Coach, the highest recognised achievement awarded through the IAAF Coaches Education and Certification System.
Quek and fellow local coach G. Elangovan, a former national athlete whom ST understands was also considered for the position, are the only ones in Singapore who have received this level of training.
With only about six months to go before the Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Quek said it is unlikely Neo's training regimen will undergo big changes.
He said: "The most important thing is to sit down and discuss what she has been doing, map out what her requirements are moving forward. We'll look at what are the potential areas for improvement."
Neo's SCMS result met the qualifying standard, which states that the top-10 finishers at IAAF Gold Label Marathons within the Olympic qualifying period are considered to also have met entry standards, despite her time of 3hr 15min 6sec being some way off the qualifying mark of 2:42:00.
She will be the first woman to represent Singapore in this discipline since Yvonne Danson at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Said Neo, 30, an assistant manager in human resources and administration who finished eighth at last year's SEA Games: "I've been training quite independently all along, so I'm thankful that SA has stepped in to get me a coach.
"It will be an exciting journey ahead."