Swimming: Gary Tan appointed new S'pore head coach, vows to build core group of swimmers

Gary Tan was part of the backroom staff that helped Singapore swimmers capture 42 gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SWIMMING ASSOCIATION

SINGAPORE - After overseeing the National Training Centre for five years, Gary Tan will make the step up to become the national swimming head coach until the end of the Paris Olympics in Aug 2024.

In its bid to make the Republic “a world class aquatic nation”, Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) president Lee Kok Choy said the governing body conducted a comprehensive search, which yielded 26 applicants worldwide including coaches of top Olympians in Europe and Australia, before settling on Tan.

Tan, 39 and a former national swimmer, was part of the backroom staff that helped Singapore swimmers capture 42 gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games.

The squad also achieved their best result at the Asian Games with two golds, one silver and three bronzes in 2018, when he was also named Coach of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards.

Lee said: “Gary impressed us the most and displayed  he has gained the expertise after working under (former national coaches) Sergio Lopez and Stephan Widmer in the last seven years.

“We believe that Gary is the best fit amongst all the candidates to influence the NTC and affiliate clubs, to mentor local coaches, to continue to bring forth world class expertise through his connection with leading experts in the world, to adapt and relate to the local swimming ecosystem of athletes, coaches, and clubs.

“We hope his appointment will inspire more local coaches to take up coaching as a profession and follow his pathway to be a world-class high-performance coach here.”

Tan will continue to act as NTC head coach until a replacement is found.

The last local to head the coaching set-up was Ang Peng Siong from 2009 to 2012.

With the SEA, Asian and Commonwealth Games coming up, Lee’s target for Tan is to retain Singapore’s position as the top swimming nation in Asean, and for all participating swimmers to record personal bests at these meets.

The national head coach position had been vacant since October after the SSA and Widmer mutually terminated his contract in October.

The Australian, who was also SSA's performance director, had gone on overseas leave before the Tokyo Olympics opened on July 23 and did not return after his leave period expired in October.

He had also appeared in a promotional video published by China-based LJ Swimming Club that claimed he had joined the Beijing-based outfit in August when his contract was to run till Dec 31.

Singapore swimmers had a disappointing campaign in Tokyo, with Olympic champion Schooling failing to retain his 100m butterfly gold, while Quah Ting Wen and her brother Zheng Wen did not advance out of their respective heats.

However, after the 9th Singapore National Swimming Championships (SNSC) in November, Tan said the arrival of Hungarian Alex Mordvincev, Brazilian Gustavo Schirru and former national swimmer Lionel Khoo as NTC assistant coaches since August has contributed to a "feel-good environment" again as 20 national records were broken at the short-course meet.

Tan added he is "living my dream to be able to lead the development of swimming in my home country", and noted the aim is to "achieve sustained podium success at Asian, Olympic and World Championships, through good and sustainable investment in the development of our clubs, athletes and coaches".

He acknowledged the challenges from Covid-19, National Service and juggling of sports and studies, and will work on building a system to retain talents. 

He also said that there are ongoing discussions to work out a programme for NS enlistee Quah Zheng Wen to be able to train, and the same would be done for Rio 2016 champion Joseph Schooling, who is set to enlist in January, if he wishes to continue competing.

Tan said: "Knowing the local landscape and struggles that clubs and swim school businesses face during this period, I will reach out to all our affiliates to address their issues and provide adequate help."The success of clubs and swim schools is crucial as they are the backbone of our system and provide the talent pipeline for the national team."We will need to rebuild a core group of swimmers through a system-based approach in both the clubs and the NTC, giving our swimmers access to an elite training in environment on a daily basis."

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