The Singapore challenge

Sky's the limit for Singapore swimmers Schooling and Quah

Singapore's Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen sharing a light moment after training. The duo are part of the smallest swimming contingent Singapore has sent to an Olympics, but according to coach Sergio Lopez, have the potential to be the most succ
Singapore's Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen sharing a light moment after training. The duo are part of the smallest swimming contingent Singapore has sent to an Olympics, but according to coach Sergio Lopez, have the potential to be the most successful.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Coach Lopez tips swimmers to surpass Republic's past performances in the pool

What Singapore's Olympic three-strong swim team lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality, as national coach Sergio Lopez expects them to make a splash when the competition starts today.

Tao Li's fifth-placed finish in the women's 100m butterfly at the 2008 Beijing Games remains the Republic's best result in the pool, and the only time a local swimmer has made the 'A' final at the Summer Games.

But that record in the history books is likely to be rewritten. Joseph Schooling's bronze medal at last year's World Championships in Kazan - coincidentally also in the 100m fly - offered proof that the 21-year-old is not in Brazil simply for a top-eight finish.

National coach Sergio Lopez told The Straits Times after practice at Rio's Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Thursday night: "Jo's now part of that elite group that's expected to win or medal every time they race. He knows he has that ability. He's such a strong racer too."

There are 43 men competing in the 100m fly in Brazil but few would bet against the four leading contenders. Schooling's personal best of 50.96sec is the fourth-fastest 100m fly timing in the post super-suit era. The top three belong to former Olympic champions Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, all of whom are vying for medals in Rio.

The Singaporean's reputation has been built on his prowess as a butterfly specialist but Lopez, who coached Schooling for five years at the Bolles School in Florida, also believes his protege could flourish in the 100m freestyle. Schooling had qualified for the 100m and 200m fly and freestyle but has opted to focus on the shorter events.

  • SINGAPOREANS IN ACTION

    JASMINE SER

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    SAIYIDAH AISYAH

    Rowing: Women's single sculls, heat 4, 9pm

    CHEN FENG

    Table tennis: Men's singles first round, tomorrow, 3am

    QUAH TING WEN

    Swimming: Women's 100m fly, heat 2 , tomorrow, 12.31am

Ang Peng Siong's victory in the men's 100m 'B' final at the 1984 Los Angeles Games is as far as a Singaporean has gone.

Expect that to be surpassed, said Lopez: "Jo swam a 48.58sec at last year's SEA Games without any pressure and not at 100 per cent fitness. It's not unreasonable to expect him to go below 48sec (American Nathan Adrian clocked 47.52sec to win gold at London 2012) which would get him in the final."

Schooling starts his campaign in the 100m free heats just after midnight on Wednesday (Singapore time), with the semi-finals on the same day. The final is scheduled for the next day before he lines up in the butterfly heats on Friday.

All eyes will be on the three-time Sportsman of the Year but the emergence of compatriot Quah Zheng Wen, who will compete in the 100m backstroke (heats on early Monday morning) and the 100m and 200m fly, has also excited Lopez.

This is the first time two swimmers from Singapore have qualified for the Summer Games with 'A' timings. Zheng Wen's elder sister, Ting Wen, received a universality spot and will race in the 100m fly heats tomorrow morning though she is not expected to advance.

The last time Singapore had only three swimmers was in the 1972 Munich Games. None made it past the heats.

MAKING HIS MARK

He will make the top eight in at least two of his events and break some national records as well. It's going to be a great Olympics for Singapore.

SERGIO LOPEZ, national swimming coach, on Quah Zheng Wen's prospects in Rio.

The sky is the limit for this group, particularly the men, and Lopez cannot wait to unleash Quah, who bagged seven Fina World Cup medals last year, on the biggest stage.

While none of Quah's personal best times in his three events - 54.03sec (100m back), 52.25sec (100m fly), 1min 56.26sec (200m fly) - would be good enough to make the final at last year's World Championships, Lopez was confident the 20-year-old will leave his mark in South America.

Lopez said: "Zheng is one of the most talented swimmers I've coached. He will make the top eight in at least two of his events and break some national records as well. It's going to be a great Olympics for Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2016, with the headline 'Sky's the limit for Schooling and Quah'. Print Edition | Subscribe