SINGAPORE - Based on the depth of talent in the men's 200m freestyle, National Training Centre (NTC) head coach Gary Tan is quietly confident of Singapore's chances of fielding a relay team for next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Referring to Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and teenagers Darren Chua, Jonathan Tan and Glen Lim, Tan told The Straits Times on Thursday (June 20): "Those are the five guys who at this point of time are basically ready to hit it for the 4x200m freestyle relay.
"(Darren, Jonathan and Glen) have come very close to where they need to be, they've come even closer to (Schooling and Quah) over the last year."
The 37-year-old was speaking to ST after the men's 200m final on the second day of the Neo Garden 15th Singapore National Swimming Championships (SNSC) at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
Malaysia's Welson Sim won in 1min 48.86sec, while seventeen-year-old Jonathan (1:49.93) and 19-year-old Darren (1:50.73), both representing AquaTech, were second and third. Fellow AquaTech swimmer Glen, 17, was fourth in 1:50.80.
Schooling, who represented Chinese Swimming Club, placed seventh in 1:53.16 though Tan noted his time was "not a reflection of where (Schooling) is, it is more the phase of training we are in and what he was working towards."
The top 12 teams at next month's Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, earn a spot at next year's Olympic Games.
The Singapore men's 4x200m freestyle relay team were ranked 15th last year, based on their time of 7:14.15 clocked by Schooling, Quah, Jonathan and the now-retired Danny Yeo in the Asian Games final. They are 0.69sec behind the Netherlands, who are ranked 12th with their 7:13.46 effort.
Tan believes the Republic is "very close" to fielding a relay team for the Tokyo Games, but cautioned: "We don't know (which swimmers the other countries are sending) and I don't want to count my eggs too early.
"But our chances are decent and I'm quietly confident that if all things go well, there is an opportunity to make that top 12."
The two-time Olympian has faith the younger swimmers will step up at the world championships.
"(Glen, Darren and Jonathan) may not have the physical attributes of size but they have a lot of heart," Tan added.
"These three guys have that tenacity and I'm not worried about putting them out there and really going (for it). It's going to be a true test of our mettle."
Jonathan, competing in his first major Games at last year's Asiad, had anchored the men's 4x200m freestyle relay to a bronze in national record time.
Of the upcoming challenge in Korea, the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student said: "During the Asian Games, I went out too hard and I "died" at the end of the race.
"From that, I learnt how to stay calm and my usual routine is just to breathe in and out, stay calm and pray. What goes through my head is what my coaches tell me and what I have to do to get the timings I want."
Singapore's four fastest 200m freestyle male swimmers this year are Darren (1:48.63), Jonathan (1:48.70), 22-year-old Quah (1:49.57) and Glen (1:49.74).
On Thursday, Schooling led in the 200m freestyle until the last turn, and coach Tan said of his 51.83sec split: "That's where people who are shaved and tapered (are) pushing it, and (Schooling) is not shaved but he's pushing that time.
"He's having quite a fair bit done and coming off quite a heavy weights programme.
"We know where he's at, we know he's physically feeling it... let's take it with a pinch of salt, I'd rather he feel the sting now than not at all.
"It's part and parcel of his training, it's still not time yet for him to be as super sharp as he needs to be."
Thai swimmer Natthanan Junkrajang took the women's 200m freestyle.
The other individual events on the second day of the June 19-22 SNSC saw Singapore swimmers Lionel Khoo (AquaTech) and Christie Chue (Swimfast Aquatic Club) win the men and women's 100m breaststroke titles respectively.
The men and women's 50m backstroke titles went to Malaysian Tern Jian Han and Aquatic Performance Swim Club's Jamie Koo respectively.
Pang Sheng Jun (AquaTech) won the men's 400m individual medley, while Ashley Lim (Singapore Swimming Club) won the women's final.