Swimming: Head coach Stephan Widmer explains rise of butterfly stroke in Singapore swimming

Singapore's Joseph Schooling competing in the men's 100m butterfly final at the SEA Games on Aug 23, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - For three decades, Singapore's best swimmers were freestyle specialists, featuring the likes of Neo Chwee Kok, Ang Peng Siong, Patricia Chan and Junie Sng.

But the tide turned in favour of butterfly swimmers in the 1990s beginning with 40-time SEA Games gold medallist Joscelin Yeo.

Yeo was followed by two-time Asian Games 50m fly champion Tao Li and now Joseph Schooling, the nation's first Olympic champion whose gold came in the 100m fly.

Asked to explain why Singaporeans seem particularly well-suited for the butterfly, national head coach Stephan Widmer pointed instead to how recent history can be a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

"The reason is probably cultural. Right now if you're a child growing up in Brisbane (where Widmer hails from) you will be pretty much influenced to swim freestyle and if you grow up now in Singapore you have your heroes in that (butterfly) stroke," said the Australian.

"Our butterfly model is quite good and young kids will see Jo Schooling and they will try to copy him."

Widmer compared the Republic to Japan, where it is breaststroke that reigns supreme instead owing to the past successes of multiple Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima.

The former coach of Australian Olympic champions Libby Trickett and Jessicah Schipper added that there are plans to diversify the variety of strokes among elite swimmers and it would be up to the national coaching team to close the gap for the other strokes on the international stage.

Said Widmer: "These things are certainly determined heavily by culture. But if we don't have the best models in the other strokes now, then the coaches have to create them through shifts of understanding in the technical aspects, such as how a Singaporean does a breaststroke kick, or handles freestyle sprints."

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