SINGAPORE – His charges produced solid outings in major swim meets in 2022 but national head coach Gary Tan knows the next 12 months will be critical for Singapore swimming.
Not only will it be a busy year with July’s World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka sandwiched in between the Cambodia SEA Games in May and Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games in Hangzhou, but also the qualifying window for the 2024 Paris Olympics opens on March 1.
Tan, 40, said: “We are taking it in our stride and every opportunity we get from these meets gives us an opportunity to qualify more swimmers to 2024. It’s been a good year, especially with the SEA Games and what we accomplished post-Covid... In all, for the whole year, we’ve done a pretty decent job on the high-performance level.”
At the Hanoi SEA Games in May, the squad won 21 golds, just two shy of their best showing achieved at the 2015 and 2019 Games.
Teong Tzen Wei then clinched a surprise silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in July, just the third local swimmer to ever finish on the podium. The Republic were also involved in 19 swim semi-finals and five finals in Birmingham.
At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Singapore had three swimmers (Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Quah Ting Wen). The trio were also the country’s only representatives in the pool at the 2016 Rio Games. Schooling and Zheng Wen had also competed at the 2012 London Games with Tao Li, Mylene Ong and Lynette Lim.
The target, Tan said, is to have four to five swimmers qualify for Paris.
He added: “The last two Olympic Games, even though we had a 2016 success (Schooling won a historic gold medal), but if you look at it, it was only three swimmers. What we want is to have a bigger haul of number of swimmers in that qualification standard.
“When they get there, when you make the ‘A’ cut, there’s always the opportunity to make the top 16, but we need to make sure they make those ‘A’ cuts first and that’s our first step forward.”
He tipped Teong to do well. Besides that Commonwealth silver, the 25-year-old became the first South-east Asian to clock a sub-22sec time in the 50m freestyle, which was under the Olympic “A” time of 21.96sec. In June, he also became just the third male Singaporean to qualify for a final at the World Championships.
Last week, he broke the 50m butterfly Asian record at the Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) and was the first Singaporean to reach the final of the short-course event.
Tan also felt Jonathan Tan, who had missed out on the last Olympics by just 0.1sec in the 50m free, Zheng Wen, Mikkel Lee, as well as breaststroke specialists Maximillian Ang and United States-based Nicholas Mahabir had a good chance of earning a spot in Paris.
From the women’s team, Tan identified Gan Ching Hwee, Christie Chue, Quah Jing Wen, Ting Wen and Amanda Tan as those with potential.
Another route was through the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay, especially after Singapore had narrowly missed out on the previous Olympics.
The quartet of Gan, Chue plus the Quah sisters had set a national record and clocked 8min 8.44sec at the 2019 world championships in South Korea to finish 13th overall. They missed out by only 0.06sec to 12th-placed South Korea for that last qualifying slot.
“I’m praying the girls will come together to work towards that goal of qualifying for the relay,” said Tan, who added that discussions are ongoing to see whether the team can train together more frequently in the lead-up to the Paris Games.