SINGAPORE - Former national swimmer Tao Li has backed ex-teammate Joseph Schooling to find his mojo, as the latter and the Singapore swim team start their Fina World Championships campaign in Gwangju, South Korea, on Sunday (July 21).
The 24-year-old Olympic 100m butterfly champion starts his Worlds campaign today with the men's 50m fly and possibly the 4x100m freestyle relay, and is set to challenge defending world champion Caeleb Dressel in the 100m fly final on Saturday.
The team completed an "extremely smooth" staging camp in Kochi "in a very relaxing environment" before the Worlds, said national head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer.
He added: "The goal really is to do personal bests, they are on personal bests and if they do that, potentially they can be competitive enough to move into the next round.
"The same for the relays, some of them are quite well positioned but it will be a tough fight, to get one of those 12 spots.
"But that's what we are here for, that's what we want to do, we want to push the boundaries for that and I hope that they will do it."
While Schooling won Singapore's first Olympic gold medal in a Games record of 50.39sec in Rio in 2016, Dressel is now seen as the favourite to not just win the event at the Worlds and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but also to break Michael Phelps' world record of 49.82sec.
But two-time Asian Games 50m fly champion Tao, 29, said: "There will be ups and downs in every swimming career, and I feel Jo is on his way back up... You cannot be always at your peak in this sport, and the pressure he is facing now will be more than when he was still making his way up.
"It would be worrying if Jo doesn't make the top 16 of the World Championships or the Olympics... As long as he still has a target to work towards - whether it is a world record, another Olympic or World Championships medal - I feel he will remain among the elite."
Tao was speaking to The Sunday Times at the Swim For Love Family Fun Day at Heartbeat @ Bedok on Saturday.
The community event was organised by her Tao Li Swimming Club for about 60 children and was also attended by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng.
She said: "I also feel blessed to be able to use what I know to give back to society. We are already sponsoring swim classes 20 kids with special needs from Rainbow Centre and are looking to sponsor 10 more.
"It is important to help the underprivileged as well, because there is talent among them too. Singapore has a small population, so my intention is to help them get equal opportunity, at least to learn how to swim."
Since her retirement after the 2015 SEA Games, she has kept herself busy with her own academy - which is open to students up to age 70 and aim to have some competing in the nationals - in the past four years.
But she has no intent to groom "the next Tao Li" and added: "That's the job of the national team, but I think I can help identify talented young swimmers and set them on the right path to get there."