Swimming: SSA was outdated, says legendary coach Bill Sweetenham

Australian swimming coach Bill Sweetenham reveals he was once offered the job as Singapore head coach but rejected the chance. The 67-year-old has groomed the likes of Olympic champions Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.
Australian swimming coach Bill Sweetenham reveals he was once offered the job as Singapore head coach but rejected the chance. The 67-year-old has groomed the likes of Olympic champions Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.PHOTO: MARCUS TAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Celebrated swim coach Bill Sweetenham has criticised the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) for once being "outdated" and unwilling to give its coaches the freedom to implement their own methods.

The Australian, who was the association's adviser from 2008-2012, called the Republic a "burial ground for foreign, international expertise" and cited the examples of British duo Barry Prime and Clive Rushton as well as Spaniard Sergio Lopez. The first two were with the Singapore Sports School while the latter was the country's former national head coach.

Sweetenham, 67, was named Australia's swim coach of the year thrice and groomed the likes of Olympic champion Ian Thorpe.

He said the SSA senior management were "good people but outdated" and they were "historical in terms of high performance". While he praised the recent appointment of compatriot Stephan Widmer - who will replace Lopez in July - Sweetenham had words of caution.

He told The Straits Times yesterday at the Chinese Swimming Club (CSC): "Stephan will bring a new era of high performance to this country, provided no one interferes with him or tries to control him.

"Many years back, I was offered the job as head coach and there are good reasons why I didn't accept it. I hope those reasons don't continue to exist for Stephan."

The SSA thanked Sweetenham, in town to work with local coaches following an invitation from the CSC, for his "candid comments" and said: "There will always be inherent challenges within any system and we are glad to work with any coach or administrator we bring in to navigate through these known and sometimes unknown challenges."

Singapore has produced stellar results in recent years. At the 2014 Asian Games, the men's 4x200m freestyle team won a bronze, its first relay medal in 24 years. Singapore won a record 23 swimming golds at the 2015 SEA Games and Joseph Schooling became the first Singaporean to win an Olympic gold at last year's Rio Games.

Widmer will work alongside National Training Centre head coach Gary Tan and SSA technical director Sonya Porter. His proteges include Olympic champions Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones and Jessicah Schipper. Sweetenham said his presence will be a boon for Singapore's female sprinters.

He also expressed confidence that Schooling can break the 100m butterfly world record at next month's world championships. Schooling's personal best is 50.39sec and the world record of 49.82sec is held by Michael Phelps.

Sweetenham said: "Joseph is training with who I believe is the best coach in the world for this event, Eddie Reese. There's no reason why he can't do it if he has self-belief and the same self-discipline he had prior to the Olympics."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'SSA was outdated: Sweetenham'. Print Edition | Subscribe