As the new high performance manager of Fencing Singapore, Serb Marko Milic has been tasked with raising the level of local fencing.
The short-term target is to guide the Republic's fencers to at least a podium finish at next year's Asian Games in Jakarta while long-term goals include Olympic qualification for the 2020 and 2024 Games.
A month into his new role, the former national epee coach of Serbia, whose contract is slated to last till the 2020 Olympic Games, told The Straits Times that his goals are "not easy, but not impossible".
The 39-year-old, who assumed the reins on Oct 22, thinks that it is achievable for a Singaporean fencer to qualify on merit for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Beyond that, he hopes a team of local fencers can attain qualification for the 2024 Games.
To date, James Wong and Ronald Tan were the only Singaporeans to compete in the foil and epee events at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics by virtue of being Singapore's top fencers. Back then, the qualifying criteria was less stringent.
While noting that Singapore's strengths lie in a solid fencing infrastructure, a supportive and ambitious management, and experienced coaches, Milic believes the only area in which the Republic is lacking now is a detailed high performance system that maps out every step of an athlete's progress.
He said: "There is a very good community because the parents are supportive... we just need to make sure there is good coordination between fencers, coaches and officials and the results will come."
Milic holds a masters degree from the University of Belgrade's Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in biomechanics, focusing on motor control and reaction time.
FS vice-president (high performance) Yau Wee Sian sees the Serb as a valuable boost to the local set-up because of his experience in coaching at club and national level, as well as his academic pursuit in sports science.
He said: "It will not be an easy task to qualify and to excel at the Olympic Games immediately... we have to train smarter as a team."
He added that this would entail Milic working with parties like the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) and the National Youth Sports Institute, as well as coaches, to develop a system that would "help our fencers realise their goals at both the Asian and world levels".
Milic emphasised that one of his first steps is to work with coaches, officials and the SSI to develop a plan, and then establish a system to monitor athletes' progress.
"This means regular testing to assess their level of strength and conditioning, physiology and also psychology, and then monitoring their training and how they're doing so that we can do performance analysis," he added, pointing out that this would allow more precise evaluation of each athlete's progress and how they could improve.
"We need to establish that kind of system in sport, and I'm really optimistic about it. We're working on that right now and it's going to be in place very soon."
The former national fencer's optimism stems in part from his own experience. Besides his coaching role, Milic has also served as general secretary for his country's federation and was the competition manager for fencing at the 2009 Universiade in his native Belgrade.
"In Serbia, fencing is not so popular and I was in a situation where I faced a lot of obstacles in preparing fencers for competition at international events like the European Championships and World Championships," said Milic.
"I've gone through that very tough test and I've had a chance to prove my management skills... I have the passion for the sport and the job, and I'll give my best for sure."