Swimmers urged to go the distance

Rachel Tseng, 17, is part of the National Training Centre squad's new intake of swimmers under the long-distance category. During training, the former 800m freestyle swimmer builds up endurance for her new 1,500m event.
Rachel Tseng, 17, is part of the National Training Centre squad's new intake of swimmers under the long-distance category. During training, the former 800m freestyle swimmer builds up endurance for her new 1,500m event.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Lopez wants to groom 800m and 1,500m specialists after success in the sprints

Since his appointment as the Singapore national swimming team's head coach last November, Sergio Lopez has delivered results and now, he is ready for the next phase: to revive long-distance swimming.

At a media event to unveil the new National Training Centre (NTC) squad yesterday at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, the 47-year-old introduced two of the seven long-distance swimmers in the squad, who will specialise in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle events.

Lopez said: "We have some very talented kids but historically, we don't really have kids who think about swimming in the 1,500m and 800m in the Olympics."

At June's SEA Games on home soil, Teo Zhen Ren, the 2011 gold medallist in the 1,500m, competed in the same event but finished sixth out of nine swimmers.

Rachel Tseng, 17, competed in the 800m event then and finished fourth in 8min 58.29sec, narrowly missing out on the bronze medal by two seconds.

Lopez even mentioned that not one female NTC squad swimmer applied to be trained in the 800m event.

One of the main reasons swimmers do not consider long-distance events is the school system.

"I think the way the system is set up is that when they get accepted into certain schools... it's about sprinting the 50m, so we lose a lot of swimmers through that," said Lopez, a 200m breaststroke bronze medallist for Spain at the 1988 Olympics. "I cannot change that, that's the way the system is, but we can start somewhere and try to empower the kids to think about those events."

Rachel, who now focuses on the 1,500m in the NTC squad, said: "It's a really exciting initiative and I think we're going in the right direction. In the previous NTC, we only had three to four distance swimmers, but now we have doubled in size."

The other long-distance swimmers in the NTC squad are Jonathan Tan, Timothy Tan, Glen Lim, Bryant Low, Michael Yong and Chloe Wang.

With this new effort to train long-distance swimmers, these specialists are able to receive training customised to their needs.

Rachel added: "In the previous NTC, we all trained together and it was quite hard to balance the mileage and the different requirements between sprinters and the long-distance swimmers. But now that we have the distance group, we can focus more on what is needed in order to achieve more in distance swimming, such as more endurance training."

But Lopez has more plans in his pipeline to enlarge Singapore's talent pool as he intends to groom open-water swimmers.

He said: "The association (Singapore Swimming Association) has five disciplines - swimming, water polo, synchronised swimming, diving and open water.

"Yet we don't even have a single open-water swimmer."

Lopez added that he has not given himself any timeline to start an open-water swim team but he believes Singapore can be successful in this discipline.

He reasoned: "I think that is another field we can be successful in the long run, so why not.

"Maybe five or 10 years down the road, we may realise that we're better at middle distance."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'SWIMMERS URGED TO GO THE DISTANCE'. Print Edition | Subscribe