SINGAPORE - Quah Jing Wen was Singapore's breakout star in the pool at the 2017 SEA Games when the then 16-year-old won two individual golds and three relay titles.
National Training Centre (NTC) head coach Gary Tan was bullish about more young swimmers stepping up to win individual medals at the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines at the conclusion of the Neo Garden 15th Singapore National Swimming Championships (SNSC) on Saturday (June 22).
"We're not going to shy away from these challenges, we've got kids with heart who are outstanding," the former national swimmer said, while acknowledging that the other countries always bring out surprises with each SEA Games.
"We're going to make sure we bring that kind of fire and spark in them to really push the boundaries."
Singapore topped the medal table in swimming in Kuala Lumpur with 19 golds, seven silvers and 11 bronzes, with a team headlined by seniors such as Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen, Quah Ting Wen, Amanda Lim and the now-retired Roanne Ho.
The 37-year-old Tan's optimism was not unfounded, following the Singapore swimmers' outing at the June 19-22 national meet.
Maximillian Ang, 19, clocked 2min 14.32sec in the 200m breaststroke, bettering the 2017 SEA Games winning time of 2:14.35, while Jonathan Tan, 17, equalled the 2017 SEA Games winning time (22.55sec) in the 50m freestyle final on Saturday despite being untapered for the meet, while Ting Wen, 26, clocked 54.62sec to break her own 100m free national record.
Tan was particularly pleased with the emergence of talent in the men's breaststroke with the likes of Ang and 16-year-old Zachary Ian Tan complementing 24-year-old Lionel Khoo, and lauded the work renowned breaststroke coach Jozsef Nagy has done with Ang at the Singapore Sports School.
Of Ang, national head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer said: "His potential goes way beyond 2:14 if he dreams, but he has to dream bigger and he has to learn very fast he can be a sub-2:10 swimmer, then the world starts to look interesting to you as an athlete.
"But the coaches can't do the hard work for him; they can deliver the sessions but he has to do them he has to dream and he has to start to believe."
Tan said that in the last six months the clubs have "shaped up well" in grooming their charges, while Widmer added that "younger swimmers" and their coaches are occasionally invited to train at the NTC.
Widmer said: "It's to keep on spreading what happens in here (at the NTC) and the competition in training that they take back to their clubs, and the coaches are exposed and they take that back to the clubs.
"We need more of that, together working towards better training, faster training, better coaches and that's how the swimming will get faster at competitions."
But Tan acknowledged that the team are still "lacking" in areas such as the women's backstroke, adding: "Whether it's something we have to address immediately or something in the future, we have to talk about it (as a coaching staff)."
The swimmers' next test is the Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea next month and Widmer believes it will be tough for his young guns to progress past the semi-final there, with reigning 100m butterfly Olympic champion Schooling perhaps the strongest pick to reach the final.
Of Schooling, Widmer said: The first part is always getting through all the rounds and improving from where he has been again at last year's Asian Games (where Schooling won the 50m and 100m butterfly titles), taking another step forward with the times - that's the first thing."
"For the other swimmers it will be challenging to make the semi-finals but again that will be the first goal: they get the times down."
The top 12 relay teams at the world championships earn a spot at next year's Olympic Games, and Widmer added: "It will be great if we come back with one spot (from) there but it will be tough to get, every other nation will be dreaming about that but we want to throw ourselves in the mix and see what comes from that."