It’s been less than a year since former Bolles Coach Sergio Lopez stepped down as head coach to move into his new role as head of Singapore’s National Team and already he has made his mark on the Asian swimming scene.
At the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Singapore towered over the other nations in terms of overall medal haul, bringing home a total of 42 swimming medals as a team, 23 of those gold. Then, superstar Joseph Schooling became the first Singaporean swimmer to earn a medal at a World Championships, clinching the bronze in the men’s 100m butterfly.
But, as part of developing Singapore Swimming’s 2020 strategic plan, Lopez has his eyes set on a specific goal that hasn’t been a part of his nation’s recent success – that of men’s and women’s distance swimming. Out of 247 SEA Games medals throughout the history of those Games, Singaporean swimmers have earned just 5 in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events. Additionally, Lopez indicated recently that, of his 28-strong National Training Center (NTC) squad just announced ealier this month, not one female member applied to be trained in the 800m freestyle event.
Says Lopez of the distance void in Singapore, “The way the system is set-up here for the younger kids…when they get accepted in certain schools, it’s about sprinting 50m free, 50m fly, so we lose a lot of swimmers through that. I cannot change that. But, if we can start somewhere, trying to empower kids to think about distance events, it’s important if we can help somehow.”
Lopez elaborated on the current situation stating, “Historically, we don’t really have kids who swim and think about if they will go to the Olympics in the 800 for 1500. We don’t even have a single open water swimmer. By no means are we going to make these kids open water swimmers, but it would be important and useful to introduce kids to open water, to go to some races and allow them to swim 2km, 3km and 5km and see how they feel.”
In an effort to revive Singapore’s performance in the distance events in light of its 2020 strategic plan, a distance category has now been established at the NTC. The sub-squad currently has 7 members, of which World Championship swimmer, Rachel Tseng, is a part. “In the old NTC squad, we had just 3 or 4 distance swimmers, but now we have doubled that number”, said Tseng. She continued that “in the previous NTC squad, we all trained together and it was hard to balance the mileage and different requirements for sprinters and distance swimmers. Now we can focus more on what we can achieve in distance swimming.”
In terms of the coaching dynamic of this larger group, Lopez says he will rely on his personal experience and advice from his colleagues and friends. Friends such as American coach Bruce Gemmell, who has current distance world record holder Katie Ledecky under his tutelage.
Lopez will also rely on his newly appointed High Performance Manager, Sonya Porter, who was hired earlier this month. Porter reiterated that Singapore Swimming’s focus is on 2020 and beyond. “We want to go to the Asian Games and mix it up with Japan, that’s somethng that this country can do. You’ve got some amazing coaches here in Singapore, you’ve got talented athletes being developed and there are great things that are already going on.”