Swimming: Stepping into Lopez's shoes

In order for the squad to achieve the depth that national team centre head coach Gary Tan has in mind, he wants a solid high-performance plan and better use of sports science to hone individual swimmers' techniques.
In order for the squad to achieve the depth that national team centre head coach Gary Tan has in mind, he wants a solid high-performance plan and better use of sports science to hone individual swimmers' techniques.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Depth of talent in national squad is long-term priority for Tan, who relishes his new role

For much of the Singapore swimming team's history, the SEA Games have always been where the nation's best swimmers assemble to take on the region's finest.

But Gary Tan, head coach of the national team centre, essentially the national team, hopes that can soon be a thing of the past.

Instead, he hopes to one day field younger swimmers at the biennial meet - but still maintain the Republic's strong standing in the region. The 34-year-old said: "That is the ultimate aim... But we're not at the stage where we can approach the SEA Games lightly. The kids are getting there but there's still quite a bit to work on."

The two-time Olympian (2000, 2004) is optimistic the national squad will have enough depth in eight years for his dream to become reality.

For now though, next year's SEA Games remain a big test for him. Former national head coach Sergio Lopez, bronze medallist at the 1988 Olympics, guided Singapore to a record 23-gold haul last year.

WORK IN PROGRESS

That is the ultimate aim... But we're not at the stage where we can approach the SEA Games lightly. The kids are getting there but there's still quite a bit to work on.

GARY TAN, whose goal is to field junior swimmers who are medal prospects at the SEA Games in eight years.

Asked about the pressure of living up to his predecessor's standards, Tan said yesterday: "They're big shoes to fill but... what's life without challenges?"

He was speaking at his official unveiling at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, as he takes over coaching duties from Lopez, who stepped down after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

While Lopez was also in charge of creating policies and development plans, these will now be handled mainly by Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) technical director Sonya Porter.

Tan, who previously assisted Lopez in the national set-up, said his role is that of a deck coach who handles day-to-day training.

To reach the depth in the squad he craves, he said, two things are required. First, a sound high-performance plan, and second, the use of sports science to refine swimmers' techniques.

He said the high-performance team is already in talks with officials from the United States and Hungary, and hope to either send swimmers there to train, or invite top foreigners here to spar with.

A concrete programme leading up to the 2020 Olympics will be announced in due course.

The new coach hopes to have more swimmers qualify on merit for Tokyo and possibly field a relay team. The men's 4x100m medley quartet came closest to qualifying this year. Their best time is 3min 38.25sec, behind Greece (3:34.41), the slowest qualifier for Rio.

The national team is also working closely with sports scientists, as Tan believes that supreme technique will help local swimmers make up for their slight physique.

"It has to be done to a T, we have to be stringent with their strokes, how they catch, hold water, each one has to have a style that's effective for them," said Tan, who retired from competitive swimming in 2006 and started coaching in 2008.

Another issue he has to contend with is the future of Quah Zheng Wen, who he said could follow in the footsteps of Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and train in the US.

Tan, who groomed Quah through the ranks at Swimfast Aquatic Club, said: "Ultimately it's his decision. If he stays we will bring in competition for him, if he decides to go we will respect that and continue to support him in any way possible.

"He's got potential to win a medal (at the Olympics) in the 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke. But we have to get him through a few meets first, like the Asian Games and World Championships and see if he's competitive in those events."

While swimming has been dogged by conflict between club coaches and the SSA in the past, Tan hopes all parties can set aside their differences and join hands for the greater good.

"We're working very closely with the clubs. If the swimmers feel comfortable training with their clubs, we're more than happy to let them train there," he said.

"There's no perfect world. Ultimately it's just going through the grind and knowing what the bigger purpose is."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Stepping into Lopez's shoes'. Print Edition | Subscribe