Singapore coach Sergio Lopez believes Quah Zheng Wen has proven that he belongs among swimming's elite after making two 'A' finals over three days of racing at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin, Texas.
The 19-year-old Singaporean ended the meet on a high when he won the 200m butterfly 'A' final in 1min 58.07sec, albeit in a depleted field missing fly specialists Michael Phelps, Jack Conger and national team-mate Joseph Schooling. It was also off his personal best of 1:56.79.
Nevertheless, Lopez said his protege did well to top a field featuring Olympian Simon Sjodin of Sweden, Olympic 200m backstroke champion Tyler Clary, and 100m fly 'A' final runner-up Tom Shields.
Sjodin was second in 1:58.27, ahead of Ukraine's Andre Seliskar (1:58.47) and Clary (1:58.61).
Said Lopez: "I expected him to be at a high level. He's learning how to compete, he's getting confident, and he understands he belongs at this level... it's very important.
"He has matured a lot, ever since I started coaching him, in the way he approaches swimming and (what) he believes he can do."
Quah has already booked his place at the Aug 5-21 Olympics, having met the 'A' marks for the 100m back and 100m and 200m fly.
Reflecting on his performances, the teenager, who raced against Phelps in the 100m fly 'A' final on Friday, said: "Winning the (200m fly) was a pretty interesting feat. I enjoyed the heightened competition. It's basically a trial run for the Olympics."
One area he has benefited from over the three days of racing is having to go fast in both the morning heats and the evening finals.
"We always have it very easy back in Singapore... we can ease off in the heats and still make finals comfortably. It's something we have to change because when you reach the bigger meets, you have to go fast in the morning (to ensure one makes the final) as well as at night," said the swimmer.
"Competing in overseas meets with talented swimmers helps us a lot mentally. It's a step (towards) the next level of swimming."
The three-day meet concluded the national team's three-week training camp in the United States.
The 10-strong contingent, including Quah's sisters Ting Wen and Jing Wen, Roanne Ho and Amanda Lim, left the US for home yesterday.
While no new national marks were set, Lopez said he was pleased with the stint and is optimistic more will meet the 'A' and 'B' times at March's Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships.
He said: "The three days in the pool, we've put Singapore a little ahead on the map. Joseph is a big star in the US but the kids making the times at this meet, it opened the eyes (of) the people to Singapore."
Weight training will be the focus when the swimmers get back, before moving on to aerobic and technique training.
"We have a chance to swim very well (at the SNAG), and they are going to make the 'B' cuts even better and get closer to the 'A' cuts," said Lopez. "We have a big chance of a big number going to the Olympics."