Singapore has never won an Olympic medal in swimming.
His protege Joseph Schooling looks to have a chance of breaking that duck in 2016 at the Rio Games, but Spaniard Sergio Lopez has a new goal - to instal a healthy production line in the country for Singapore to churn out a steady stream of world-class swimmers.
Lopez will leave behind a successful system and team at The Bolles School in Florida to start work here as the Singapore Swimming Association's (SSA) new national head coach on Jan 2, 2015.
In a press conference at the OCBC Aquatic Centre yesterday, the 46-year-old said: "This is a chance for us to become one of the best countries in the world, but it's not going to happen overnight.
"The most important thing is to understand how to create sustainable success and I'm not afraid of that (challenge).
"I've been coaching 22 years in the US and one of the things they taught me is how to build a team."
He is confident, works hard and has enjoyed success both as a swimmer and a coach, but Lopez insisted he has "no magic wand".
He has served for the past seven years as head coach and aquatics director at Bolles. He was also part of the US senior national coaching team from 2012 to 2014 and the US junior national coaching team from 2009 to 2014.
He was also the Olympic coach for Singapore at the 2012 London Games and head coach for Netherland Antilles in 2008.
Lopez has produced the likes of 2011 World Junior Championships backstroke medallist Ryan Murphy, women's 200m individual medley world-record holder Ariana Kukors and Schooling, who is ranked among the top 10 in the world in the 100m butterfly.
Lopez was the first local-born swimmer from Spain to win an Olympic medal when he finished third in the 200m breaststroke in Seoul 1988.
He says he only possessed average talent, but worked his socks off.
It is a mantra he preaches as coach.
"If a swimmer comes up to me and say he's going to be a world champion, I'm not going to say no," he said.
"I'll keep that person calm, and we're going to work, we're going to go far. But if he skips practice and finds excuses and then we're are going to have a problem. You are not going to be an Olympic champion.
"I believe that if you train hard and you work hard, you are going to be successful."
He added: "Now it's going to be interesting. If I don't prove that I'm a good coach with everything I have in my hands, I better retire because everything that we have here is wonderful, from the facilities to the swimming pools, from all the scientists we have to the biomechanics.
"I think we have the recipe to be very good."
SSA secretary-general Oon Jin Teik explained the rationale in hiring Lopez.
"We felt that the coach had to be one who can bring someone of a certain level to the next level.
"We wanted a coach who could have some understanding, sympathy, empathy of our system, our culture, yet be able to transform to the next level.
WILLING TO LEARN
"We also wanted a coach who is willing to learn about our system, our culture, education system, NS system etc... and to build it into the picture here for us to partake and move forward."
Lopez does not have a comprehensive plan ready right now, and wants to understand the local culture first by speaking with swimmers, parents and coaches, as part of the SSA's high performance plan (see sidebar).
He also moved to allay fears among local coaches that he is out to poach swimmers from their clubs.
"I need to make sure that the coaches understand that I'm not a threat to anybody," said Lopez, who also had a meeting with swimmers, parents and coaches last night.
"I'm here to work with them, we're here to understand how they think and to share with them how I think.
"Clubs have two objectives - to make money and to produce talent for the country. We want to help them achieve both."
This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014.
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